For both business leaders and everyday employees, few things can have a greater impact on workplace productivity and satisfaction than finding meaning in one's work. For example, there are stories of sanitation workers who find great satisfaction and purpose in their work. Even in seemingly unglamorous positions, you can still find fulfillment and meaning in what you do.
Interestingly, a 2019 study of workers in the United Kingdom found that "doing meaningful work" was the number one factor for determining employee happiness. Needless to say, your ability to do meaningful work and also strive to help those who work under you to find meaning in the workplace is imperative.
Create your own meaning.
As a leader in your company (or even a company founder), you probably had some event that happened, which created a deep purpose or meaning behind the career you chose. I had one of these events when I had to let a member of my team go. It was this experience that led me to closely examine myself as a leader and how something I potentially could have done earlier on might've prevented the firing altogether. As time would tell, my career would never be the same; it turns out I am not alone.
During a recent conversation with Saud AlKahtani, co-founder and CEO of FLTR, a manufacturing company that produces face-filtration masks, he said he had a similar event. Shortly after graduating form Johns Hopkins, he found work as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, a $10 billion global management and consulting firm with an incredible alumni of more current and former Fortune 500 CEOs than any other company in the world. It was impressive, career-defining work, but still -- something was missing ...
Though AlKahtani had found success, he wanted to do something that would have a greater, more far-reaching impact -- something he could be proud of. With FLTR, yes, he creates quality air filtration masks. More importantly, however, his day-to-day work is now built around combating severe health risks associated with air pollution. In short, because he had a personal connection to the issue, he finds greater satisfaction in being a key part of the solution.
For both myself and AlKahtani, our purpose in our respective industries came from identifying a meaningful gap in our own skill set or in the marketplace. If you haven't discovered this already, lean into finding a purpose that goes beyond making money."
Dig deep to find inspiration.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Shawn Askinosie, author of Meaningful Work and founder of Askinosie Chocolate, for my podcast. Askinosie worked for 20 years in a job that he was extremely passionate about, until he reached what he described as a point of physical and emotional exhaustion.
He was no longer engaged with his work, and this even caused panic attacks. So how did Askinosie overcome his lack of purpose?
As he explained, "The path of finding the next inspiration was rooted in ... exploring the depth of the sorrow in my life ... There can be great productivity and great learning and great joy in exploring the depths of our own broken hearts. And I think that absolutely relates to our work."
This doesn't mean leaders should wallow in self-pity. However, by examining your own challenges and struggles, you become better able to identify pain points in the market as a whole.
A self-evaluation will make it easier to identify what does or doesn't spark your interest. Dig deep to determine what makes you happy in your work. Look for the ideas and opportunities that excite you.
This personal reflection makes it easier to find a "big picture" purpose that gives you greater motivation and energy -- either in a renewed commitment to your current position, or in a new role at another company.
Transfer 'meaning stories' to your team.
As a business leader, finding a sense of purpose for yourself is only the beginning. You must also inspire others to find meaning in their work, regardless of their position within your company.
While each person is responsible for finding their own purpose, there is no doubt leaders can do things to help transfer meaning. The primary ways the best leaders do this is by sharing their passion, communicating a vision and connecting their teams to the positive impact of their work.
If you haven't already, look for stories or examples where your products or services have positively impacted the lives of your clients. Instead of sharing them as marketing stories share them as "meaning stories" for your internal employees.
Finding meaning in your work can completely revolutionize the way you lead your team. As you connect your work to a greater purpose, you and those you lead will be able to achieve far greater results.