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Caroline Yetman

Purpose & meaning at work

We talk a lot about purpose and meaning at NixonMcInnes. In fact, it’s in our blood, our culture and at the root of everything we do.

happy buttons

  • We’re encouraged to do stuff we enjoy at work
  • We measure individual happiness on a daily basis using tennis balls
  • We make decisions democratically using open, honest communication
  • We celebrate our failures in our ‘Church of Fail
  • We have access to ‘the full picture’ through open book accounting

We understand that fulfilment and happiness at work is not directly linked to how much you earn*. It all eventually comes down to these two things – purpose and meaning.

Like Dostoevsky once wrote:

“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.”

But of course, not all businesses are like this. In fact, now at least half of employees in the West are unhappy at work and in the USA, job satisfaction is at its lowest level (45%) since record-keeping began.

Don’t get me wrong, we are getting better. But I’m still deeply disappointed when I hear of family members who have been in a professional job for years, climbed the ladder and are earning a few buck, but still don’t feel appreciated for their long-term loyalty. It bugs me that they aren’t praised or acknowledged and aren’t made to feel worthy or valued at work.

And it aggravates me when I hear friends talk about some great ideas they’ve had about their own companies, who have been made to feel inadequate by their leaders and are silenced by their inability to speak freely at work, to share their ideas and to help change the company for the better. 

I would probably be the same. I’d probably think it was completely normal to enter the company at the bottom and have to work my way to the top in order to interject any opinion. And for a while, even here, I felt inadequate, like my opinion wasn’t justified. That’s just how it is, right?

When I started out here, I wondered what right I had, as a newcomer and a junior, straight out from university, to have a say in the way the business ran. Surely everyone knew better than me – right? Yet, I started noticing that my views were taken seriously and it was for the benefit of the company that I was able to spot opportunities for improvement. After all, who’s more qualified to do this - the people at the top who are in the thick of the decision making and are being pulled and stretched in all different directions, or those who are actually on the ground doing the work and experiencing the way said company is run?

And it’s not just about this, but it definitely feels like a massive part to me. It’s about being made to feel valued and being treated as a human being.

This is the opportunity for business leaders today. As philosopher, Roman Krznaric, says:

“We have entered a new age of fulfillment, in which the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning.”

Let’s grasp this opportunity.

Not just because it benefits us as individuals, but because it will unleash the potential of employees and have a tremendous impact on the way the business runs. 

The French writer François-René de Chateaubriand hit the nail on the head when he wrote this:

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

This blog post was actually inspired by my colleague, Max St John who wrote a blog post about finding purpose in his life and decided to write his own personal mission statement.

And I’d encourage everyone to join him in doing this. I’m currently working on mine and might blog it when it’s done.

* Disclaimer: I’m not saying we’re the best at this. We’re definitely not. And it’s not always easy. But we do understand how important it is and are constantly striving to get better.

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