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August 29, 2022

6 ways to find meaning in your work

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Feb. 21, 2023.

    Research has shown that nine out of 10 people would accept lower compensation for more meaningful work. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, John Coleman, author of the HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose, explains how employers can reconceive "work as service" to help employees find meaning in their jobs. 

    1. Consider how each role serves clients, customers, patients

    While customers are central to every business' success, many employees do not see how their day-to-day tasks serve customers. For example, an accountant who works at a medical device company may never meet the people who rely on those devices.

    "Finding ways to make this service to customers real to employees is a core challenge for each person and for every company's leadership team," Coleman writes. "Regardless of approach, finding ways to see through an activity to the impact it has on the customer is critical to a mindset of service."

    2. Develop positive relationships with colleagues

    "Nothing is more important to happiness and fulfillment in life than the depth and breadth of our positive relationships," Coleman writes. Positive relationships in the workplace are "absolutely essential" to employee engagement, but they do not exist in all environments.

    If every employee in a company tried to serve their colleagues the same way they serve clients, there could be a "relational revolution" across the organization, Coleman adds.

    3. Serve the community

    Companies that engage in community service programs experience multiple benefits, including better recruitment, development, engagement, and retention. 

    "And when structured to reflect the interests and passions of employees, these programs can lead to greater motivation among a workforce and better reputation in the community," Coleman writes.

    4. Consider the value of capital

    This is the most difficult area, Coleman notes. "For most people in a business, that business's shareholders are some distant, often malicious force." However, 401ks, defined benefit contribution plans, 529 plans, and similar programs owned by regular people make up most of the capital that owns public companies. Many private companies have a similar structure.

    "While it's likely never going to be as big a motivator as customers or colleagues, remembering that our work may serve the financial dreams and aspirations of people like us can make us feel better about the value we create," Coleman adds.

    5. Consider the ways you can serve providers or vendors

    Sometimes clients take advantage of employees, neglect them, and take out their frustrations on them. "Anyone who's been a vendor or provider to another company knows that role can be hard," Coleman writes.

    "We have an opportunity, therefore, when we are the clients dealing with the vendors and partners who serve us, to act differently — and even to embrace an attitude of service to them," he adds.

    Ultimately, companies and employees who develop a reputation for serving their providers will develop better relationships with those partners. According to Coleman, "[w]hen we act to serve our providers, we can also feel better about our relationships with them."

    6. Focus on the ways your work benefits loved ones

    All employees work for a reason—whether it is to support themselves or their loved ones. "Those without spouses or kids often work to support parents, siblings, or friends," Coleman writes. "And many people use the proceeds of their work to support causes and organizations about which they care deeply. Even on the hard days, we can take comfort in the fact that our work is an act of service to those we love."

    According to Coleman, service "can't be confined to off-hours volunteering — though that is important — but instead must become a mindset with which we approach all our professional activities. Individuals who remember these daily opportunities for service will be happier and more fulfilled. And companies that promote them and keep them central to their culture will benefit from a more engaged and motivated workforce." (Coleman, Harvard Business Review, 8/25)

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