As a consultancy firm committed to empowering companies to create purpose and values-driven cultures, we are here to support you, as leaders, to inspire the people you work with, particularly during these times of great uncertainty. Following on from our piece about bringing purposefulness and gratitude to your team culture, it’s time to take a look at creating meaning and fulfilment in the workplace and reflect on whether this is present in your team or organisational culture.
When it comes to your business, there are positive benefits, socially and financially, from your team finding meaning and fulfilment through their work.
Meaningful work has been found to be intrinsically motivating and leads to improved wellbeing, performance, engagement, career development, and job satisfaction (Bailey & Madden, 2016). These benefits flow through the home context, which is currently doubling up as the office.
Back in 2012, Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, gave a brilliant talk called “Love Your Work”. In this talk, he highlighted the link between people feeling fulfilment and meaning at work, aka loving your work, and people feeling valued, challenged, supported, and respected.
In an interview, he shared:
The feeling of fulfillment comes from doing something for another. The feeling from fulfillment comes from the exertion of time and energy for someone else.— Simon Sinek
“Loving your work” involves a committed team, who are there for each other, and bring each other to new heights together.
Even though the world is a very different place to the one it was even a month ago, we can take steps to create a team culture where people in your team utter these five words: “I love my work”.
If we want our businesses to thrive, then people need to love their jobs; and to love their jobs people need to derive meaning and fulfilment from them. A huge part in this is that people are serving one another in authentic ways.
Whilst that might seem self-evident, and it may feel hard to keep your eye on this as a people leader because we are having to move fast, make difficult choices, juggle home life responsibilities. However, if we don’t you will struggle to find what you need right now: people feeling connect, energised, and motivated to do their work.
So, lets look a little closer at what’s behind a sense of meaning and fulfilment?
Create more joy, health and trust through being of service to others
In his talk, Sinek offers insight into the core of his leadership and business philosophy, which is: leading is the act of being in service. As Sinek tells us, when we do good for others, like encouraging the strengths in our team-mates, not only does the other person gain in confidence, we also feel good because we are contributing our strengths as well.
Neuroscience provides guidance here also. Human beings are social creatures, we are built to help one another (Ritvo, 2014). What we understand is that both the giver and the receiver benefit from being of service, and that giving is a prime lever in stimulating positive emotions like joy, and improving health.
One crucial thing here is that – the biological and emotional impact of doing good for others – stays with us. As a result, we feel more fulfilled for longer and have a greater sense of connection to our work and our colleagues. It can even have a flow on effect whereby we inspire others to do the same, and as such, create the foundations for a culture of service.
People want to be of service to others, and want to know they are making a difference, whether small or large.
In his talks, Sinek often speaks about the importance of people knowing that they are making a difference beyond themselves. In other words, there is a strong connection between an environment where being of service is the norm and people experience higher levels of meaning and fulfilment.
Sinek is quite specific though in this form of service that generates meaning and fulfilment. He points out how critical it is to acknowledge people’s strengths, enable them to do stretch work that uses these strengths, where they may indeed fail, but to also provide them with support, education and encouragement if they fall down.
Taking risks for your team members such that they may fail, and supporting them to get back up, creates an environment where they will take risks. At this time of crisis, lots of things at work may feel like risks: innovating, creating new offerings, trusting people to WFH, collaborating with traditional competitors.
Reciprocity, respect and trust – the hallmarks of a culture of service
This is where some core values and principles really come into their own: reciprocity, respect and trust.
In terms of what to consider in your team and organisational culture, we can also gain insights from moral psychologist and educator Mustakova-Possardt (2004). She found that authentically ethical and humanistic environments, built on values like trust, respect, compassion and reciprocity, contributed to people living meaningful, purposeful and service oriented lives. However, when, environments were focused on cultivating self-interest and fear, peoples’ behaviours followed suit: fear-driven, self-centred, concerned about the self.
At this time, when we need greater cohesion and solidarity among our team members, it is important to reflect on how these values are playing out in your team culture.
To create the culture of service that leads to meaning and fulfilment at work, we need to cultivate authentically moral environments where people feel respected and mutually supported. They are more likely to act in similar ways towards each other. It is about practising a noble purpose of service to others and bringing to life the principles and values of reciprocity, respect, trust, capability development, and connection.
As leaders and co-creators of culture, we need to find ways of putting others’ talents and gifts to the highest service possible.
Develop service-oriented behaviours as a team leader
Reflect on your leadership behaviours
What you can do to cultivate more meaning and fulfilment in your team culture is to reflect on your own ways of being and doing, and how service oriented you are.
Drawing on the talk from Sinek, and my own experience with clients in creating connected cultures, I have created a short list of reflection questions for team leaders to use as a guide to spark genuine reflection, and then a conversation with your team members.
Tip: Feel a sense of openness as you engage with these questions, to what emerges, and stay curious to what may need to change in your behaviour, the interrelationships between your team members, and for you as a collective.
Questions for your own personal reflection
Do your ways of being and doing reflect:
- Caring for the people you work with, manage or guide? Can you give an example?
- Service to others / giving to others / being supportive / helping / reciprocating? In what ways?
- That you value everyone’s contribution and celebrate their efforts?
- Your commitment to learning from mistakes and seeing challenges as growth opportunities?
- Empowering your team to uncover, feel, discover and know the qualities, strengths, talents, capacities and skills that they already have?
- Open, honest and transparent communication to help your team members feel confident about themselves?
Now that you have got a sense of how you are bringing to life the values and ways of being and doing that create a culture of meaning and service, you may wish to reflect on them with your team.
Pick one to seek feedback on from your team and dive deeper on.
Pay it Forward
Start by doing little things for others and Pay It Forward – the principle is when you help another, they will help another, and that’s how we create widespread change. For more ideas, see an earlier article of mine “7 Practices to Increase Social Connection and Resilience in the Workplace.”
Connect with me to receive the Meaning@Work Questionnaire for teams
We have created a Meaning@Work Questionnaire for teams to reflect on different aspects of what creates meaning and fulfilment at work, based on Simon Sinek’s talk. Please connect with me to receive it.
Remember: the environment and culture of the place where we go to work each day has far reaching impacts, even more so right now. Let’s make them positive ones, that enable self-confidence, trust and connection and activate our noble purpose of service to others.
I look forward to hearing how you go with these questions and how you have used them in your team.
Bailey, C and Madden, A (2016) What Makes work meaningful – Or meaningless, MIT Sloan Management Review 57(4)
Ritvo, E (2014) The Neuroscience of Giving: Proof that helping others helps you. Psychology Today.
Sinek, S (2012) Love Your Work, Creative Mornings, New York City
We run a series of programs and workshops to help you build andrun a values-driven, noble enterprise. From identifying and activating your unique values, to articulating your noble purpose, Barasa can help you take your business to the next level of impact in 2020.Get in touch or organise a consultation with Dimity here.