Monday, December 29, 2008

How Leaders Find Meaning In Work?

SleepingatWorkj0432728Ron was a successful senior executive with an insurance firm. I say successful because he had all the appearances of success. He had money, prestige, friends, family, and three homes. But he wasn’t happy at work. At age 60, he retired in order to take care of his ailing mother. He recently told me that he has never experienced such fulfillment as he does now caring for his aging Mom. Ron had found much more meaning in his new "career" as a caregiver. How about you and your team? How much meaning is in your work?

The definition of meaningful work is “the ability to earn a living doing that which satisfies an individual’s psychological, spiritual, and social sense of purpose and contribution.” (1) The four key elements of meaningful work are shown below. The list represents Professor Miller's modification of Neal Chalofsky’s model. (2)

I. The Sense of Self

• Bringing one’s whole self (mind, body, emotion, spirit) to the work (and the workplace)

• Recognizing and developing one’s potential

• Knowing one’s purpose in life and how work fits into that purpose

• Having a positive belief system about achieving one’s purpose

II. The Work Itself

• The act of performing – mastering one’s performance

• Challenge, creativity, learning, continuous growth

• The opportunity to carry out one’s purpose through the work

• Autonomy, empowerment, and a sense of control over one’s environment

WorkHomeBalancej0172639III. The Sense of Balance

• The balance of work self and personal self

• The balance of spiritual self and work self

• The balance of giving to oneself and giving to others

• The balance of family self and friendship self

• The balance of individual self and supportive others

IV. The Sense of Contribution

• Using one’s skills, strengths, and talents to serve others

• Making a difference

• Making the world a better place

• Feeling part of something larger than ourselves

• Experiencing mutual benefit -- by helping others, I help myself

Ron was missing in several of the areas identified in this list of meaningful work. Where are you and your team members lacking?

Although it is not entirely your responsibility to make work meaningful for employees, it is in your best interest to help them see that work can be meaningFULL. You can accomplish this by helping them master all aspects of the job, presenting them with challenging and creative tasks, and providing them with a sense of autonomy and control. In addition, frequently reminding your employees that they are making the world a better place will contribute to their sense of meaningful work. As you increase meaning, researchers remind us that your employees' performance and retention improve. (3)

Ron said he had to leave work to find more meaning in his life. You don't have to. Could you and your team find more meaning if you distributed the meaningful work list and invited employees, individually and collectively, to brainstorm ways to increase the meaning in their work? Let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear from you.

Keep eXpanding,


1. Cynthia S. Miller; Meaningful Work Over the Life Course, Dissertation, Fielding Graduate University, 2008, p22.

2. Chalofsky, N; The humane workplace: Aligning of value-based organizational culture, meaningful work, and life balance. Presentation delivered at the Organization Development Network Conference, Baltimore, October 23, 2007.

3. Wesley A. Scroggins; ‘The Relationship Between Employee Fit Perceptions, Job Performance, and Retention: Implications of Perceived Fit,’ Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 2008, 20:57–71.


Bob Gunn said...

I have always had a problem with balance in my life. I really never understood it until reading this blog. I now know what and why I need to achieve, to obtain the balance that I've been lacking. I can see myself with much more purpose in the future. Thanks for providing the tools I needed to get this right!!
Bob Gunn

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Hi Bob,

I wrote about this topic because I need to learn better balance also. Finding balance is one of the top priorities for most employees.

Actually, another way of thinking about balance is to think of managing the tension between meeting the needs of the work environment and a home environment.

Managing the tension of leadership is one of my most popular presentation topics and meetings and conferences.

Thanks again for writing,