Work out why you do what you do

For too many people, work is about as meaningful as it was for Sisyphus, the mythical king sentenced by the gods to push a huge boulder uphill, only to see it roll back down again. The point? Punishment, of course. Sisyphus’s drudge had no context; it was an eternal loop of heave-ho and letdown. Work, though, need not be “punishment” if you can see the point of it. As psychologist Abraham Maslow argued, humans have a deep need to find meaning in what they do, to relate their contribution to a bigger picture. It’s a topic that’s long fascinated Chip Conley, founder and chief executive of boutique hotelier, Joie de Vivre Hospitality. “In studying dozens of meaning-driven companies, I’ve come to realise that workplace meaning can be dissected into meaning at work and meaning in work,” Conley writes in his bestseller Peak. Meaning at work is how an employee relates to their company, work environment, and the company mission; meaning in work is how they feel about their specific job. “Meaning at work is even more important than meaning in work,” Conley says. “When employees believe in the work of the company, the whole Hierarchy of Needs is met… our self-actualisation needs can be met by feeling that we are part of an organisation making a difference in the world.” In a study of 30 global executives, researchers Tobias Fredberg and Flemming Norrgren found common traits that enabled those leaders to engage people from very different settings. Top of the list: a higher purpose. “These leaders make people feel emotionally engaged and inspire them to walk the extra mile,” the researchers say. “The company has to mean something to people rather than just being a place to work.”

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