Monday, July 04, 2011

What is it that makes work satisfying?

Obviously the main reason most of us do what we do is to earn money as, if we won the Lottery, most of us would stop doing the job we do.  But despite this somewhat facile motivation,  most of us derive a sense of satisfaction from our work.  The question therefore is what aspect of our work is it that we derive the greatest satisfaction from – is it status, providing for our families, being associated with an organisation or the camaraderie of our colleagues?  While all of these things are important, the greatest sense of satisfaction is that which we derive from being useful and having a purpose.

Most companies have visions and values, but only a few place an emphasis on the organisation’s purpose.  In this context, an organisation’s purpose alludes to its contribution to the wellbeing and maintenance of society.  Take Konosuke Matsushita, the legendary founder of Panasonic as an example.  For him, the purpose of Panasonic was not to make money for shareholders, it was to eradicate poverty through the employment of others and by manufacturing quality goods at affordable prices.

While this talk of ‘purpose’ may seem a little idealistic, it is never the less a concept that leads to better motivation, productivity and employee satisfaction.  For example, would you rather be a road sweeper or a hygiene worker?  Both sweep the street but in one case the job description implies that the role’s objective is simply to pick up the rubbish that other people carelessly drop, the other implies that the purpose of the role is to improve the environment by making it a cleaner, safer and more attractive place to be.  I know which concept motivates me the most!

But in our world of skewed economic values where a bank trader is considered to be ‘worth’ so much more than a care worker, we seem to have lost sight of our purpose in so many jobs.   For example, I recently worked as a team coach for a group of health workers. They were heavily caught up with endless organisational change, regulation, accountability issues and departmental politics. As a consequence they had lost their sense of vocation and purpose, and hence their underlying motivation was suffering.  As an outsider it was easy for me to see that what these people did professionally was incredibility important – but they were in danger of losing sight of it.   However, by spending time focusing on the meaning and purpose of their work and by finding strategies to reduce the distraction of the less important aspects of the role, their motivation and energy quickly returned.

My advice would be the same for anyone.  Rediscover the core meaning and value of your work. Keep it strongly in mind and reinforce it through whatever means you can.  Look at what in your job isn’t part of the core value, or is secondary to it and see what you can do to reduce the energy and effort you spend on those things and, by so doing, increase the attention you can pay to what is important.

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