Why is it important to find your sense of purpose at work?

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Have you ever asked yourself why many people don't enjoy the work they do? Some of them are even unhappy in their job roles. Just consider how much time you spend at work and how much it amounts in days and months. By having that in mind, it is clear that most people spend more time at work than with their families. You can just imagine all the potential downsides of a situation to someone who spends a significant part of their lives by doing the job that they see as meaningless and insignificant. It is hard to love a job if you feel this way. The most likely, you'll end up hating it. Therefore, I always wonder what makes people happy and content at work, and what to do to avoid this trap.

Recently, I've found a video by Barry Schwarz, professor of social theory and social action from Philadelphia, who explains that most people, as a result of the industrial revolution, have adopted the belief that they work just for a paycheck. According to Mr. Schwartz, the initial belief about human nature has affected the way in which the work in factories has been organized. As the starting point, many companies have accepted the idea that people are lazy and inert by nature. Paycheck has been considered as a necessary compensation needed to stimulate people to do the work. Schwarz argues that such a belief is actually a mistake, and what drives people to get up every morning from the bed is not money but meaning.


I've been thinking about this idea for a while and recalled many people from various industries who love their jobs. The insight I’ve got confirms this observation. I know doctors, professors, engineers, some officers, and even several cleaning ladies who are extremely dedicated and engaged in their work. For me, it was obvious that all of them share one common thing: a sense of purpose--the sense that they can help another person and that they can do something that improves other people's lives.


Having that in mind, I'll tell you about a situation when a big problem appeared among employees who worked in a customer support team. The average retention rate was about two and a half months and in spite of doing many exit interviews, no one has figured out what was actually going on. The employees have already got a great benefits package. It has included a contribution to retirement, medical insurance, dental insurance, stock options, bonuses, etc.


To make things more confusing, even their daily tasks were quite simple and easy. A majority of the problems they encountered in their work had a pre-compiled script. In this way, they were able to simply and efficiently solve customer problems. For complex tasks, they would redirect customers to people, specifically trained for that very kind of a problem. After they resolve it successfully, they just had to close the ticket. Possibility to get into a serious problem with a client has been reduced to zero. All communication took place through tickets, scripts, and rarely through some longer e-mail.


On top of that, the employees continued to leave the company. As a result, more and more people appeared just to stay the next three months and then leave, as their preceding counterparts. It was hard to remember their names because they continuously gave way to other employees. The situation did not appear to be optimistic at all.


Even though extensive discussion took place, prolonged meetings were held, and different ideas were adopted--the problem wasn't solved. Despite the occasional changes, the situation remains the same. Fortunately, a winning suggestion appeared that successfully solved the problem. The main idea was to fully engage employees by turning them back their problem-solving ability and allowing them to connect directly with customers. In other words, the idea was to help them find meaning in their work.

The first step was to remove the script. Although we were aware that it would reduce the efficiency of resolving customers' complaints--we decide to stick to it. Our initial belief, when it comes to people and interpersonal relations, was that efficiency can't be of the highest priority. What was essential at that moment was EFFECTIVENESS--the quality of problem-solving not only with customers but also with creating a better climate among employees. By removing the script, we give the employees an opportunity to find solutions and make decisions on their own. This change has helped them feel better.


Another important step was to replace tickets with phone calls to enable employees to better connect with customers. Instead of poor communication by using tickets, employees were able to offer better support, because they had the opportunity to listen and empathize with the clients. At the same time, we tried to provide them with information from the first hand whenever we were witnessing how the solution to the problem affected the client. We didn't stop there. When we were about to install new software or to make additional changes within our clients, we would also take a man from the support team with us.


These two steps were enough to end up the continuous turnover of the support staff. Not only that these changes improved the work environment and made employees more content, but also the productivity gradually began to grow.


It was at that moment that I learned the importance of the role of leadership in a company. Essentially, it has to remind repeatedly their employees how valuable their work is, how it affects other people, and how it contributes to their immediate environment. Likewise, I'm trying to let the employees solve problems and make their own decisions as often as possible. So far, I come to the conclusion that these two factors are crucial for employees to get a sense of meaning and feel content with the work they have done.


It is always good to ask yourself--what kind of feelings do your employees take back home? Often, even the best-designed reward program can't retain employees who are stuck in a routine in a meaningless job, where they feel they are bored to death. It is especially true, at least, from a long-term perspective.

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