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Show Me meaningful work, Not the Money

Posted by Jody Urquhart on Tue, Jan 26, 2016 @ 10:37 AM

meaningful work speakerOne cynical audience member recently announced to me that people don't care what kind of work they do as long as they're being paid to do it. I respectfully disagree.
Consider this: What if you worked really hard on a project, investing your time and thought into that effort, soliciting and assembling input from others - and the project was subsequently tossed aside? Would you shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well, at least I got paid”? There is a slim possibility that you would react that way the first time, but if it happened again and again, you would lose heart. You would lose interest.  You would invest little energy in your assignments.
What if you built a gadget and your supervisor immediately crushed it and told you to start over? You rebuilt it, only to have it demolished, over and over again.
Eventually, you would think, “Why do I bother?” and give up. Or worse, you would continue to build your gadgets (after all, it's your job) but you would build them haphazardly because they are unappreciated and doomed to destruction anyway. Welcome to the world of dysfunctional work, where a version of this scenario plays out day after day.
When we can't connect our actions to results or a larger meaning, our efforts eventually become demoralizing. People take pride in what they create. If we can't see what we create, that pride is diminished. When our work is tossed aside or unacknowledged, it's even worse. A basic need we share is the ability to see where we and our efforts fit into the bigger picture, including family, community, employment and the world at large.  In today's instant knowledge economy where information has become a commodity, it is increasingly hard to see how one job contributes to the bigger picture.
Work is typically seen as an individual pursuit. We decide what we want to do for a living and we choose specific, individual jobs: hairdresser, doctor, lawyer. Who says they want to grow up to work on a collaborative, well-functioning team?
People don't choose a career because they just can't wait for the teamwork. Yet, most jobs require team work, and it's the connection, collaboration and group rapport that drives meaning into the work.
Most people have an innate need to know their work has meaning. Leaders fall short when they toss aside results without noticing or appreciating or connecting those efforts to the bigger picture. Many of our roles are unseen contributors to bigger results. A football team needs more than a quarterback, a running back, a receiver and a kicker even though those are often the easier-to-see contributors to a team’s success.  The guards, tackles, corners, punters, coaches – all team members make meaningful contributions to that bigger picture.  And so it is in most organizations, with most occupations, in most cultures.
We all get meaning from our work.  We also get meaning from the people we work with.  If you see yourself as serving others or contributing to a greater cause, you ignite meaning in your work. Our work helps provide our identity, fulfillment, and connection with others.  More and more, people are demanding that their efforts be relevant and noticed.
Enjoying work is about context. How we think about our jobs may be what makes our work matter. To paraphrase a quote from The Little Prince, “It is the time we spend on our work that makes our work so important.”  We derive meaning from our jobs, and we enjoy being compensated for our work.  Money is only one of the reasons that we work.  Money is a satisfier, not a motivator. Money helps provide for our physiological needs, and probably adds some ego boost, as well. But money doesn’t give us the glow of pride and the fulfillment of having done our best.
It is more meaningful than money to see the results of your work.

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