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The Power of Purpose at Work – Meaning

We discussed the Power of Movement in my last article, and now I continue to the next “M” in the M6 Workplace Wellbeing ModelMeaning. I am using meaning and purpose interchangeably here. Their relationship is symbiotic in that we derive meaning from purpose; or said another way, meaning lies within purpose.  On this basis, they are inextricably linked and may be mutually considered in my model.

The University of Michigan conducted a study to determine the potential relationship between purpose and risks of early death. Their findings were astounding. “. . . having a life purpose appears to be more important for decreasing the risk of death than whether you drink, smoke, or run on the treadmill four times a week.”[i]

People are looking for meaning not only in their personal lives, but in their work lives. This represents an opportunity for the workplace to clearly articulate their purpose and to build a culture where every employee understands their connection to the larger meaning.

Something Bigger Than Ourselves

Meaning is beyond the work itself; it is about the impact the work can have. This past March, Cristina Ibarra made a radical change in her restaurant in Juarez, Mexico.

“There started to be such a strong Cuban presence [in Juárez], I decided to stop selling tacos so that I could start feeding the Cubans,” she said. Cristina saw both an opportunity and a calling as the city experienced an influx of Cuban immigrants patiently waiting for clearance from the US government. She has since built a place that is a . . . “haven for the Cuban community as they deal with the uncertainty of living in a foreign land and an increasingly complex immigration landscape.”[ii]

The bright colors and Cuban flags draw customers from the local hotels and provide some sense of home and community where people can talk, laugh, and be nourished; and she says, “. . . that gives me tremendous satisfaction right now.” Her Cuban staff contributes to the authentic menu and offers more than food; they are providing a caring hospitality and at the same time finding meaning in their work.

“A Purpose Economy organization creates purpose for its employees and customers – through serving real needs, enabling personal growth, and building community. . .  It makes the creation of purpose their imperative, even if they struggle at times to realize their values and vision.” — Aaron Hurst, The Purpose Economy

So, how can the workplace help with this?

Here are a few examples of ways organizations can help build meaning at work:

  • Provide opportunities for employees to help others.
    • Through benefits – A large multinational professional services company allows employees to transfer unused PTO (Paid Time Off) to their colleagues whose circumstances require them to be away from work more days than they have PTO. Employees feel good about being able to help someone else, and research has shown that the person doing the giving receives as much, or more, of the positive brain response than the receiver. Additionally, when someone observes a good deed, they also get a brain boost. This is called elevation.[iii]
    • Through results – Sallie Krawcheck grew her successful woman-centered investment firm called Ellevest with one main purpose: to unleash “. . . women’s financial power and get them invested in their biggest goals.” The people she employs find meaning and a sense of purpose in impacting their clients to achieve positive results in the male-dominated financial industry.
    • Through the supply chain – This may be achieved through using people-conscious sources or environmentally friendly components. Fashion brand Eileen Fischer set goals that are audacious by fashion-industry standards. Their pledge is to use all organically grown cotton and linen and environmentally-conscious dyes by 2020. Since 2005, they have built an alternate source of Peruvian hand-knitted sweaters by promoting a network of in-home factories that employ talented local women as well as investing in the Handloom Project which empowers weavers in India.
  • Be people-centered . . . really.
    • Include people in decision-making. Organizations that value collective insights have been shown to make better decisions while empowering people and developing them to understand how to make good choices – they have ownership. When this happens, people stay longer and bring their best selves to work.
    • Practice job crafting. One person’s interests are another’s bane, so enabling responsibility “swapping” can create jobs people look forward to and at which they excel.[iv]
  • Cultivate courage and safety. The truth is that we cannot grow into our purpose as individuals or organizations without making ourselves vulnerable and allowing ourselves to stretch beyond what we’ve always done. When we encourage vulnerability, there is an expectation that someone has our back – that we are politically and emotionally safe. Learning through failure is particularly powerful — hard lessons are memorable.

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”

— Brené Brown

  • Use technology wisely. We are gaining a better understanding of the impact of technology and the expectations around it. Author and MIT professor Sherry Turkle has researched the phenomenon of escalating loneliness and isolation when we are, ironically, more “connected” than ever.[v] At the same time, we are discovering that technology also has the power to help us interact in more meaningful ways, i.e., connecting via “face-to-face” apps (WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc.) with people we would otherwise not see, as well as through sharing-tools that allow us to include more remote voices through direct contributions to documents and ideas.

 “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” — Brené Brown

The Impact of Meaning at Work

Meaning is a key component of a workplace of wellbeing which enables people to feel connected, valued, and included which encourages thriving and growth. It creates a culture where people want to stay, inspires better performance, and it initiates new thinking and better decisions. All good for our individual and collective wellbeing . . . and not to mention, the bottom line.

What practice will you and your team start today?

For more on the M6 Model and my approach to coaching, take a look at my website and other blog posts at https://www.nobleconceptsinc.com/.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to reach out to me at karen@nobleconceptsinc.com, and we can talk more about building a culture of thriving! Share this post with friends you think may find this of interest!

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[i] Goleman, D., The Hidden Fountain of Youth (https://www.kornferry.com/institute/having-purpose-lifespan)

[ii] https://www.npr.org/2019/07/30/741936652/a-taste-of-cuba-pops-up-in-ju-rez-mexico

[iii] Haidt, J., The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (New York: Basic Books, 2006) p195.

[iv] Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A., “Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work” (Academy of Management Review, 26: 179-201.)

[v] Turkle, S., Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2011)