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How We Damage Our Workforce’s Path to Finding Meaning Everyday

On Monday, we introduced the concept of ‘meaning at work’ with a wonderfully engaging video from Emily Esfahani Smith, the author of the book ‘Power of Meaning’.

Today, we want to share with you some of our analysis around how majority of us in leadership roles – consciously and unconsciously damage our workforce’s path to finding meaning at work everyday.

If you walk into any traditional organization small or large scale and ask “What’s the number one purpose of business?”; you are most likely to hear “It is to make profit.” Whether that’s the number one purpose of business or not is certainly one argument; but the one we are about to make today is more related to how business drives profit then after.

Though many senior executives would not question the correlation between a business’ mission and the need to drive profits, many people leaders routinely undermine the inner work lives of their workforce by overlooking the correlation between one’s need to find meaning and one’s ability to sustain creativity, productivity and commitment at work. Majority of our people leaders literally act in denial of the constant flow of thoughts, emotions, behaviors that constitute our life experiences day to day.

According to one study, beyond affecting the well-being of our employees, our inner work lives affect the bottom line of all organizations. We experience more inspiration, higher sense of safety and joy when we are able to have more positive inner lives at work.

Recognize finding meaning at work is different than the work (itself) being meaningful to us. Of course, we all want meaningful job definitions; but meaning at work is slightly more than that. Meaning at work also includes things like how we experience the environment, whether we can bring our whole selves forward, whether we can be authentic in our relationships, whether we can work in ways that’s natural to us, and more…

In our recent analysis, we found a variety of behaviors demonstrated by today’s leaders preventing first themselves and after, those around them from enriching inner life experiences day to day.

Unclarity of purpose.

This is probably the most obvious of all our fallings short. Majority of today’s corporate ‘leaders’ – us – live our lives not knowing what we stand for. We work eight to twelve hour jobs in search of prestige, status and financial freedom – to have a house large enough, a car fast enough, a purse big enough, diamonds shiny enough, for example; yet, at the end of day, when we reach that prestige, status, and freedom, we feel unfulfilled. This is in part due to the fact that majority of us have a view of ‘success’ developed through other people’s reflections. We ‘think’ we want certain things – like a title or a reward – but deep inside, those things are not what makes us ‘happy’ or ‘fulfilled’.

And when we finally find our true calling or develop a mission to live by, it seems we fall short of exercising courage to live up to our very own values on a day to day basis. One way or another, we end up locking ourselves inside our heads, not being able to see beyond traditional measures, eventually ignoring the connection required to our hearts, to our bodies for creation of holistic experiences.

Do you have any sense what this sort of unintentional living does to us individually or to others around us?

It steals the opportunity of breath, our spiritual fulfillment away. It disconnects us from our true sense of ‘being’ (live). It also strips our sense of security because when no one exercises courage to live by their true values, we find the ground to be not transparent and inconsistent underneath our feet. People leaders, who are unclear on their WHY and unable to demonstrate their values through their actions not only become perceived as ‘uninspiring’; when they become clear on their passion and struggle to show the will to exercise courage, they start being viewed as a potential ‘threat.’

Work without purpose is often seen as hard labor, where work with purpose is referred to as joy.

When we know why we do something and what we do matters to others and/or how it is connected to something bigger (what the organization does, for example), it gives meaning to our effort.

Connection to purpose provides inner meaning; jobs with a purpose encourage commitment; and purposeful leaders encourage safety.

Not building a sense of belonging. 

We all know creating a positive corporate culture is not easy, yet it is essential for all companies that want to excel. Again, we find in our research majority of today’s people leaders don’t see building a sense of belonging as their sole responsibility; therefore, they don’t assume full accountability in culture building and/or for making an employee experience harmony. They think they are inside an organization to drive results, which they are – however, very few consider how they are going to drive results and to what cause…

Imagine for a second, having to send our children to a school, where they are expected to grow a sense of belonging without the support of anyone; and teachers seeing it their responsibility to only make our children learn math. How would we feel about that?

Belonging is an active endeavor, not a passive one. It requires work enduring over time and yes, it is tied to shared values.

In our review of multiple studies, we find there are three critical parts to building a sense of belonging:

1. Story telling, which is a way to create a narrative around what our organizations are trying to do. By defining and communicating clearly the company’s purpose, its beneficiaries, stakeholders and how one person is critical in bringing that overarching value forward, it can really help us develop an emotional connection.

2. Validation, which ensures people leaders are able to see and accept each and every employee for who they are, their given gifts and for their unique contributions. Globoforce recently released its 2017 WorkHuman Research Institute (WHRI) survey report, finding that the majority (66%) of respondents reported they are the same person at work as they are at home. The report surveyed 2,700 full-time U.S. employees with the goal of finding out what really motivates people at work. It turns out, employees want to bring more life to work.

3. Rewarding, which publicizes and reinforces people’s contributions while further building on story telling (by shedding light onto the encouraged behaviors.)

Being able to develop a sense of belonging encourages creativity and performance and more importantly, it drives our physical and psychological well-being.


Unauthentic connections.

We used to think of workplace as a place to get the job done and not to socialize. As our lives get more and more integrated, that’s no longer the case. Further, when people are united in mission, they often find affinity with one another. Unfortunately, it seems through the data that majority of today’s people leaders are either ‘faking’ their connections or genuinely struggling with the level of emotional insight necessary to form the authentic connections.

Either way, do you know what happens in absence of authentic relationships?

We feel without a choice, isolated and lonely.

And do you know what happens when we remain in those states for prolonged periods of time?

We become physically and emotionally exhausted. We become sad, anxious and sometimes, depressed.

Authentic connections allow us to freely ‘be ourselves’: to have a voice, to express disagreement, to show what we really care about, and know we will still keep a bond despite all the differences. It gives us a ‘home’ to return to.

Dr. Susan David of the book Emotional Agility talks about this in part as structural support, which is “the ability to ask someone to cover for you when you’re in a bind,” and in part as emotional support, which is having someone who can talk you through stress, change, or anxiety.

Our ability to build authentic connections motivates inclusion and trust inside our organizations.


Inability to care, nurture and grow in the right way.

If we were to think of our workforce as a place of garden, how would we prescribe to care and nurture for it? Or, when we close our eyes and imagine our physical, mental, and emotional health in terms of a garden, what do we find it look like? And if it is not as green, colorful and lush as we want it to be, how would we exercise different care?

In today’s busyness of life, we find less and less ample time to slow down, to genuinely care for and to nurture our employees. In a recent Coming of Age Digitally report by MIT Sloan and Deloitte, it is reported corporate learning still far behind; 90% of respondents say need to update skills yearly, yet, only 34% satisfied with organizational support.

There is an aspect to this about upgrading our mindsets (to growth mindset) and our learning & development strategies; but according to our finding, there is yet another aspect, which is around leaders exercising wisdom and compassion.

Wisdom is more closely tied to building acceptance around our need for diversity and compassion around self-care and care of others.  It is important we differentiate the fact that we are not required to inject care, nurture or growth, we are rather responsible to genuinely consider which seeds develop and blossom naturally and which could use more attention. Once we discover those needing more focus, we can then direct our thoughts, energy and support to making these seeds burst into beautiful blooms.

Caring, nurturing and growth is about helping someone discover or re-discover unique gifts available to them so they can progress in their evolutionary journeys.

While wisdom motivates inclusion; compassion motivates fairness and equity inside organizations.

For us to transform our work experiences, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed as individual leaders. And for us to be transformed as individual leaders, we have to allow for the incompleteness and for the complexity of (human) beings and start to understand what we’re trapped inside of and how we can contribute to our experiences differently.

And we firmly believe we can… We can!


  • 6 June 2018

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