Making Work Human: The Power of Purpose, Meaning, and Gratitude

December 4, 2020 Mervyn Dinnen

Woman smiling at work4-minute read

(This post continues our blog series breaking down each chapter of “Making Work Human.”) 

If you asked five randomly selected employees what your company’s purpose is, would you get the same answer each time? Now, suppose you were to ask the five instead what their work meant to them. How many different answers do you think you would get? And if you finally asked what they were grateful for today, how many do you think would say that they are grateful for something, or someone, at work?

These thought-provoking questions come early in the fifth chapter of “Making Work Human,” in which authors Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine explore the importance of purpose, meaning, and gratitude in the workplace. Too many businesses may wrongfully overlook these when creating the employee experience, considering they are effectively the beating heart at the center of that experience – the basic foundations on which to build a human-centric workplace.

Each has a unique impact on everyone working in the organization. Purpose, as it is defined by the business, belongs to everyone and defines their connection to their employer. Meaning is usually unique to each individual employee and therefore personal. Finally, gratitude is what builds lasting connections between individuals within the business.

Returning to the question at the start, when asking about purpose you should expect to get the same answers because every employee should know, and be unified by, the company's overall purpose. When asking about meaning, on the other hand, you would expect to get a set of different answers, because when people come to work they will each have a set of expectations, skills, and experiences that are unique to them. And when asking about what they were grateful for today, you would hope they were grateful for something, or someone, at work (along with the people in their personal lives).

Purpose

When we look at purpose, we think of company mission statements, which are rarely simple and often consist of a list of platitudes that don't reflect their employees’ daily lived experiences.

In fact, recent research from Gallup found only 39% of employees in large organizations clearly see a connection between the job they do and their organization's purpose.

This is especially concerning in the uncertain times we are currently living in, as without a shared purpose, employees are more likely to see their relationship with a company as being purely transactional, working for pay and whatever personal rewards they get for doing their job – thus making them much more vulnerable to burnout. Those with a shared purpose tend to transcend the transactional, seeing their daily efforts build up to something bigger than themselves.

Meaning

Meaning is different from purpose as it’s personal, not shared. Employees may have shared beliefs in their company’s purpose but derive different meaning from their roles. Research from Workhuman® has found meaningful work to be the largest contributor to a positive employee experience, whilst in a 2017 survey on ‘what makes you stay at your company’ found 32% saying it was the job itself, as they found their work meaningful. Amongst today’s emerging talent, research shows that millennials and Gen Z want their businesses to address societal needs in an ethical, inclusive way.

Gratitude

Gratitude helps build connections between people. In the book “Making Work Human,” the authors call gratitude “The Great Connector.” Through its platforms, Workhuman has been able to track millions of interactions that underline the close connection between the giving and receiving of thanks and better business results. They saw during the early days of COVID-19 how the language of recognition moments – words like compassion, hope, resilience – became more common when people were thanking each other. In the book they quote author Nataly Kogan in saying how gratitude asks our brains to stop looking out for negatives and focus on the small positive moments.

Gratitude also works two ways, having a positive impact on the receiver as well as the giver. Performance, engagement, energy, and resilience all rise, with grateful people also being less likely to suffer from burnout. It creates bonds between people, satisfying our need for attachment and belonging and reinforcing interdependency. For the giver, it also puts them in a different mindset, thinking about how someone’s actions have impacted them and underlining a more positive outlook.

This is definitely one of my favorite chapters in the book. I have been lucky enough to have worked in a couple of organizations where the shared experiences, gratitude, purpose, and culture are so strong that people never think of leaving, even though they might be able to find greater material rewards elsewhere. In this chapter, Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine show us how this can be achieved in our own organizations.

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About the Author

Mervyn Dinnen

Mervyn is an HR and talent analyst, researching the emerging trends that impact hiring, development, and retention. He is author of the books "Exceptional Talent" and "Digital Talent."

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