Helping Your People Find Purpose in Their Work

Finding Deeper Meaning in a Job

Woman on video call sat at desk.

Help people understand how their jobs make a difference.

© iStockphoto/marekuliasz

Meghan works in janitorial services at a major hospital, and she takes great pride in her work.

One day, she pairs up with a new team member to show him the correct way to clean rooms. However, he seems ambivalent about his new job, and about the importance of following strict cleaning procedures.

So, Meghan explains why their team's job is one of the most important in the hospital. When they do thorough work, there are fewer germs in the operating and patient rooms.

Their diligence reduces the number of secondary infections, which, in turn, helps keep patients healthier. Potentially, their work could save lives.

Meghan's story is an inspiring example of how people can find purpose in their work; that is, they can see the full impact of the work that they do. In this article, we'll look at how you can help your people find purpose in their jobs, and why this matters.

Why is Purpose Important?

No matter what you do, your job exists for a reason. When you know that reason – and when you fully understand how your efforts make the world a better place for someone else – you have found your job's purpose.

In their 2010 book "The Why of Work," Dave and Wendy Ulrich explain that there are many advantages of helping people find purpose in a job.

On an individual level, people who understand their job's wider purpose are happier, more engaged, and more creative.

And, from an organizational perspective, when employees see how their roles fit with the company's goals, staff turnover goes down and productivity rises. People work harder, use their initiative, and make sensible decisions about their work. In turn, the company can operate more efficiently. Everyone, from the CEO to customers, feels the positive effects.

Helping Your Team Find Purpose

If you work for a nonprofit or service organization, it may be easy to help people find the deeper meaning in their work. But what if you work in a bank, a call center, or a software company?

It's essential to realize that every job provides a service to someone else – if it didn't, it wouldn't exist. Keep this in mind as you work with your team members to help them find meaning in their work.

Step 1: Write a Meaningful Mission Statement

Your organization's mission statement is a good place to start. It should help you identify customers' needs, the ways in which the organization will meet them, and how success will be measured.

You may not be in a position to change your organization's mission statement, but you can write a mission and vision statement   for your team or department. This statement should define the deeper purpose behind your work.

Use the 5 Whys Technique   to kick-start this process. Ask the simple question "Why does this team or department exist?" and keep following up with "why" questions until you've uncovered your team's deeper purpose. Think about organizational objectives as you move through the process: what needs are being met?

Next, use this insight to write your team's mission and vision statement. Display this where everyone can see.

Step 2: Link Personal Drivers With Team or Organizational Goals

Your next step is to connect your team members' personal goals to organizational ones.

To start, meet one-on-one with each of your team members, and use McClelland's Human Motivation Theory   to help them understand what really drives them.

Next, encourage each team member to reflect on how they can connect their motivations with the goals of the organization. Remember that your role in this process should be that of a facilitator; try not to influence others too much with your own values or beliefs.

Finally, use the Management by Objectives approach   to link your team members' personal goals to those of your organization.

Step 3: Uncover Strengths

When you do work that uses your strengths, you slip into a state of flow   – you are so engaged with your work that time seems to slip away. You often do your best work in this state.

The same is true for members of your team. If you can help them discover their strengths, and the tasks that lead them to slip into a state of flow, you will help them find greater personal satisfaction in their work.

Encourage team members to explore their strengths using the StrengthsFinder   assessment, which will help them to uncover their top five strengths.

You can also use the MPS Process   with them to uncover the tasks and responsibilities that bring them the greatest happiness and meaning.

Once you have understood each person's strengths, use job crafting strategies   to incorporate more of the tasks that use these into your team members' work.

Step 4: Build a Positive Work Environment

A healthy, positive working environment brings out the best in everyone. So, make sure that you're giving your team the chance to be the best that they can be.

For instance, to help people build good work relationships  , encourage them to socialize before meetings, or outside work  . Give people more autonomy over their work, and provide learning and career development opportunities. Promote values such as integrity, honesty, and humility by praising employees   who demonstrate them.

When you create a work environment that is uplifting and supportive, it will be easier for your team members to stay connected to the deeper meaning in their work.

Note:

Your team members will look to you for inspiration, so make sure that you're setting a positive example. Our article on working with purpose   will help you identify the purpose within your own work.

Step 5: Use Feedback to Boost Positivity

Positive feedback   is a highly effective motivator. It reminds us that our work is noticed, and that it’s making a difference.

Provide regular feedback, and share stories from customers or clients that show how your team is making a positive difference. This can be a powerful way to inspire your team members, and to keep them connected with the people that they’re helping.

Key Points

Most people want to know that their work has meaning – that it helps someone else or makes the world a better place. When people understand the deeper purpose behind their work, they are likely to be more satisfied and more productive.

Take the following steps to help your people find purpose in their work:

  • Write a meaningful mission statement.
  • Link personal drivers with team or organizational goals.
  • Uncover strengths.
  • Build a positive work environment.
  • Use feedback to boost positivity.

As a leader, it's important that you provide regular feedback, both from your own viewpoint and from that of customers or clients. This will help your people see that their work really does make a difference.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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