Finding meaning in work

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that when you can find meaning in work, you’re happier and more satisfied with your job. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, either, that people who work in the non-profit sector find it easier than employees in other sectors to find meaning in their work and are therefore happier and more satisfied with their jobs. (If it is a surprise check out this study.)

Helping others is motivating. And the good news is that you don’t have to work for a not-for-profit to help people. But often, you need a boss that helps you see the connection between what you’re doing and how it helps others.

Professor Adam Grant from Wharton did a cool study in which one group of fundraisers soliciting contributions to a university read two essays by scholarship students about how the scholarship made a difference to their lives; the other group of fundraisers read two essays by former fundraiser about how that job helped them in their own careers. Guess which group collected more money? Correct. The first group collected significantly more money.

Another study, also by Adam Grant, found that actually meeting the beneficiaries of their work can increase motivation and job satisfaction even more.

The question is, then: How can you help the people in your work team link their efforts with the good of others? And let’s get personal: How does what you do at work help other people?


Which kind of boss are you?

Here I sit, typing awkwardly, nursing a smashed up collarbone held together by a steel bar and 11 pins. (Broken bones hurt a lot, by the way.) Even so, here I sit, doing my work thing.

How many people who work for you carry on, doing their work thing, when they’re uncomfortable, physically or psychologically? Maybe one has a kid at home who is a source of concern, another’s relationship is faltering, one has a cold or ‘flu coming on, another is irritated by colleague but is too polite to confront the problem and one has painful arthritis.

When you’re aware of the ‘whole person’, you can establish a strong and effective working relationship and help them be as productive as they can be. When people are just so many ‘pairs of hands’, it’s a different story.

Ah, but is getting to know the whole person worth the effort, when many employees readily move from one job to another and when others are contract and part-time employees?  Common sense says so, since the way you treat people day-to-day establishes the culture, which sets the pace for productivity.

And it goes deeper than that. How you treat people after they leave is important, too. Some organisations act as if departed employees never existed at all. That sends a strong message.

And then there are the organisations that make sure people leave on good terms. Some even treat former employees like alumni, staying in touch and even inviting them back for part-time or contract work or to mentor current employees. Former employees of organisations like these become ambassadors. They speak highly of their old organisation, building its reputation in the marketplace and strengthening its customer base.

Even when your organisation isn’t that sort of organisation, you can be that sort of boss. The organisation may reap some undeserved benefit, but you’ll reap a lot of deserved benefit: a happier, more productive work team and a strong professional network to stand you in good stead when you need it, to name but two.

Which kind of boss are you?

Breed success with great expectations

Here are two important questions:

  1. Do you expect the best for yourself, from yourself and from everyone around you?
  2. When you have a setback, do you blame yourself and let it ruin the rest of your day, or do you ‘take it on the chin’ and figure it’s only temporary?

You probably know that you generally get what you expect. There are all sorts of reasons for this and most of them are in your subconscious. Your subconscious is great at fining a way to make what you expect to happen, happen. When it can’t, it makes sure that you interpret what does happen in a way that is in line with your expectations. And you’re probably familiar with how your subconscious totally ignores information that doesn’t fit in with your expectations and how it lets in information that does fit and even, appears to fit. The mind does a great job of making sure you’re ‘right’. It’s supposed to.

So if you’re always ‘right’ even when you’re wrong, you may as well set yourself up for success. That’s why Set high standards and expect the best is a great motto to follow.

People who expect the best, from themselves, for themselves and from the people around them, generally get the best. Here is another motto, this one from Henry Cotton, much-loved principal of my high school way back when: Mediocrity is a choice. So is excellence.

Expecting excellence does two other things. It inspires you to achieve your goals. And it helps you deal with disappointments and setbacks. When you expect the best, you can see obstacles and mistakes as abnormal and temporary – no need to blame yourself for them. You can ‘take them on the chin’ and move on.

So the thought for the week (and the rest of your life) is: Set high standards and expect the best. Or: Mediocrity is a choice. So is excellence. Take your pick.

Handbag and briefcase management

It seems I’m developing a bit of a reputation for being super-organised. It’s totally undeserved, to be perfectly honest, but it’s a topic I know a bit about because, being basically disorganised,  I try very hard to be organised. If you follow. Anyway, that explains why, on a recent radio show, I was asked how I organise my handbag and briefcase. And here, basically is my answer.

First, don’t buy heavy bags or briefcases. When you can feel their weight when they’re empty, you’ll be sorry when they’re full. According to the American Chiropractic Association, handbags should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight. So if you’re a dainty 60 kilos, that’s only 6 kilos, which is lighter than my cat. I imagine the weight guideline holds true for briefcases.

(Gentlemen, at this point you may skip down to the Briefcase bit and I won’t be offended.)

Buy a handbag with compartments. Then learn which compartments hold what. No compartments in your handbag? Use little make-up bags or jewellery bags to keep similar items together.

Have a separate card holder for your loyalty shopper cards and all those other seldom-used cards. No more unsightly bulging wallets.

Don’t carry every item you think you may need. You probably won’t need it and if by some miracle you do, you probably wouldn’t be able to find it in amongst the kitchen sink that’s also in there.

Carry shoulder bags cross-wise. If cross-wise sounds too daggy for you, call it ‘New York style’. If that’s still too daggy for you, at least switch shoulders every 10 minutes or so.

‘New York style’ is better, though. You don’t have to worry about it slipping off and you have two completely free hands, which is important for safety as well as for shopping. More importantly, it’s better for your back and shoulders. Years of carrying heavish-ish shoulder bags on only your shoulder, as opposed to cross-wise, really does a number on your back muscles, your spine and your ability to stand straight. Been there, done that. (I’m much better now, thank you.)

Most briefcases have a lot of compartments. Use them to store like items together and get to know what you’ve put where. If you need to, use pencil cases, make up or jewellery bags to stash any smaller items you need to carry.

When you’re meeting about several topics or with several people and you’re not carrying a laptop with the documents you need, coloured heavy paper folders or plastic folders are great. Label each one so you don’t have to over-tax your memory. Anyway, there’s no point in remembering your colour-coding unless you use the same colours all the time for the same subjects or people and even then, it’s a good idea to label them so that others who may help you in the office can locate them if they need to.

There we have it. It may not be rocket science but it’s one more tiny element in a polished professional image.

Two heads are better than one

Whether you’re making decisions, innovating, developing plans or solving problems, the more the merrier is the go. Up to a point of course; too many cooks spoil the broth. But enough of cliches.

There is no doubt that people working together, directing their efforts towards the same endpoint, almost always do better than one lonely brain. Particularly when they are an assorted group, with different backgrounds, experiences, skills sets and all the rest of it. We all know that.

Why is it, then, that we so seldom act on what we know? Well, we’re all under pressure and involving people does take more time. But let’s face it, when you get a better result, that bit of extra time is worth it. Plus, the people you’ve involved have a better understanding of the situation and therefore greater commitment to the decision, innovation, plan or solution. Plus, when it’s your team you’re involving, it’s good for their development, both as individuals and as a team. ‘We’re all in this together’. ‘We the team’, in which there is no ‘I’. That makes your life a lot easier in the long run, too.

Of course, you don’t want to involve people when it’s just to rubber-stamp a decision or plan you’ve already made. Or so you get to lead a meeting that takes up everyone’s time and merely fills the room with warm, moist air. When people don’t care about the decision or plan or won’t be involved in implementing it or when it doesn’t affect them, don’t waste their time. And naturally, when time is really tight, you possibly can’t afford to involve people.

But that leaves a lot of other times when you are well advised to bring in the troops. When you have good people on your team — that is when you’ve recruited well, trained and developed them well, motivated and engaged them well — they probably have the skills and experience to help.

People often want to be involved, too. When you’re lucky, it’s because they care about the team or the organisation or their customers. Maybe it’s for their own personal development. Maybe it’s because they know they can make a positive contribution. Maybe they’d rather sit in with a group than get on with their own job. When that latter reason is the case, leave that person out of the loop, because you want people who can add value to your decision, innovation, plan or solution.

You should almost always include people who are affected by your decision, plan, innovation or solution and people who you need to help you implement it willingly and enthusiastically. When you need people’s acceptance and support, invite them to the party, too.

So there we are. You know it and I know it. Two heads are better than one. Act on what you know.