How Meaningful Is Your Work?

meaning of life cartoonHow meaningful is your work? How meaningful do you want it to be? In a recent Gallup poll, 70% of people said their work was not meaningful. On the one hand, that number is alarming. Seventy percent of workers spend half of their waking hours doing something that brings no meaning. On the other hand, should our work be meaningful?

At a very minimum, our work is meaningful because, for most of us, it enables us to feed, clothe, and house us and our families. For many of us, it gives us purpose and focus. We have to get up in the morning and be somewhere and do something. Without that, we often become aimless and dissatisfied.

And then there’s the question of whether we live to work or work tomeaning of life cartoon 2 live. Some say it’s a generational thing—that Baby Boomers live to work while Millennials work to live. I actually don’t see it that way. Yes, Millennials want to have more balance in their lives. However, Millennials are increasingly demanding that their jobs have meaning and that their companies are socially responsible. In this sense, their jobs bring greater meaning, doing something that reaches beyond themselves.

I ask you to think about your work—deeply—and contemplate how much meaning it really does have. I think all of our work has meaning in one way or another. A bus driver enables people to get places. A web designer helps people communicate messages. A word processor may even help save lives, especially if he or she works for a company that builds medical devices, or a shipping company that delivers life-saving equipment to hospitals, or a law firm that litigates tort law, or a school department that educates children and keeps them off the streets.

I watch the elderly people in my neighborhood at the local grocery store some days. For some folks, getting dressed for an outing and walking into a store are big accomplishments. Interacting with the store clerk may be the only social interaction they have that day. A store clerk who is cordial, maybe even chatty or helpful, may bring deeper meaning into a person’s life than the clerk could even imagine.

meaning making illustrationThe meaning is there. You just have to find it. You don’t have to be a world-renown leader to have an impact on the world or to have meaning in your work. This is especially important for young people to understand to take the pressure off of “achieving greatness” at the expense of health and happiness. For the rest of us, dig deep and find the meaning that is already there.

Forget Physical Fitness, Get the Right Job Fit!

happy face in sad facesOne day, I was called in to give feedback to a company’s leaders on one of their directors who had been through our assessment center. The meeting was curious to begin with, since exceptionally high-level people were there. The meeting was called unexpectedly after being put off for months after the completion of the assessment center program. But, being a consultant, I was used to flexing to the whims of clients.

Within minutes, it was clear the meeting was not a typical collaborative evaluation of an executive, with people from inside and outside of the company bringing their observations to the table. It was a meeting to develop a case to fire the director for not being able to manage the relationships in a business alliance under his charge.

The director was a smart, talented technical expert. He was not, however, skilled at building rapport and managing conflict. In the field, we call this a “derailing” factor. In other words, he was derailed from his upwardly mobile track because he did not have people skills.

This is, unfortunately, a very common occurrence in organizations. It would have been better for the director if he had learned people skills or, even better, taken a job that better leveraged his technical skills.

I coached another mismatched director—a very smart and talented woman who was an extreme introvert, who preferred to work alone. You can only imagine how absolutely miserable this woman was, when her job was to manage personal relationships among her team, her peers, and the board. She was desperate to change jobs without burning any bridges in the process. Unfortunately, this is also a common occurrence, especially in technology-based companies.

Sometimes it is not about competence, but it is about job fit. The earlier you learn that, the less time you waste in unpleasant job situations.

Job fit is important at all levels in an organization—manager, employee, consultant, business owner, and so on. College students choose “majors,” fields of study that hopefully hold their interest and in which they get good grades. Of equal or greater importance, however, are the work environment and tasks associated with a particular job.

For example, I had planned to be a therapist before I applied to graduate school in psychology. But after talking to a couple of therapists, I found out that it was a very passive job, where you sit in a room all day and wait for people to come to you. It was not at all a good fit for me. I was so glad I had done the research ahead of time to learn what the work environment was like. I recommend you do the same.

9 Success Factors at Work

man with business cardA college education is important, but learning from real life experiences is more.

Fifty executives at a large pharmaceutical company went through an assessment center to help the company develop its talent pipeline. They were assessed on sixteen competencies, or success factors. “Technical expertise” (what you learn in college) was just one factor; being socially agile, building strategic relationships, influencing others, maintaining composure under pressure, and driving change were among the fifteen other critical factors that are not taught in college.

Here are nine real life factors that typically contribute to an employee’s success in a job.

  • Leadership, courage, and decision-making ability
  • Social agility, being a team player, and building relationships
  • Communication and influence
  • Creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurialism
  • Planning and execution
  • Facilitating and adapting to change; resilience
  • Drive for results
  • Self-awareness and self-development
  • Integrity and organizational values

Joanie teaching at NU 3How do we learn these skills, if not in college? By taking on responsibility, venturing into unchartered ground, and taking time out to reflect.

What are some actions that you are taking to develop these skills? I’d love to hear your comments.

man on computerThe factor I’m learning the most on right now is communication and influence. I’ve broadened my reach to social networking. Learning how to communicate on the internet and how to be heard are two important skills that I certainly didn’t learn in college!

New Year New Book!

Flying without a Helicopter Book Cover finalQuestions and Answers from Joanie Connell

When is the book coming out?

While copies of Flying without a Helicopter: How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life are currently available on Amazon, the book will be officially released on Friday, January 23rd at a Book Release Celebration in San Diego. The social media book launch will kick off the week of February 23rd. A free webinar will be held as a part of that launch. If you would like to join the book launch, please sign up.

What motivated you to write the book?

People often ask me why I wrote the book. The answer is I wrote Flying without a Helicopter because it needed to be written. Managers kept coming to me with frustrations about how to handle the new generation of workers. At the same time, many of them had 20-something kids moving back home because they couldn’t make it their own. The connection had to be made: raising children in overprotected and over-structured environments creates adults who rely on others to solve their problems and keep them happy. Ask anyone who’s been there and they will tell you it’s not a good place to be.

What is the main message and who should read it?

The main message of the book is that parents need to let kids develop independence and resilience to make it in the real world. The book is for parents, managers, educators, and youth themselves. It focuses on developing resilience, independence, creativity, and communication skills and is written from the perspective of the workplace.

What is a book release celebration?

The Book Release Celebration is a party to celebrate the completion of the book and thank everyone who helped make it happen. There will be live music and a photography exhibit, as well as food, wine, and beer. Of course, there will be books for sale, as well as signing, but the main focus of the evening is to have fun. There will be raffles for door prizes throughout the evening. The event is free, but, to reduce waste, we are asking people to bring a cup for wine or beer or support Kill the Cup by purchasing a reusable cup for only $5. Please join us at 3rd Space on Friday, January 23rd, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. for an enjoyable evening with a celebratory vibe. RSVP on Face Book or contact us at Flexible Work Solutions.

What is a social media book launch?

A social media book launch can be many things, but in this instance it is an intense week of promoting the book across social media platforms and online stores. There will be many blogs, articles, and book reviews shared throughout the week, and many promotions will be offered to encourage book sales, shares, tweets, blogs, and so on. It is definitely a week to stay tuned for chances to win prizes, get deals on books, coaching and speaking engagements, and learn useful ways to build resilience, creativity and other workplace skills.