Without work all life goes rotten- but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.  ─ Albert Camus

Recently there have been discussions among consultants, business owners and CEOs about the search for soul in the workplace. While most agree that religion is not an appropriate topic to approach at work, leaders are examining the role of true meaning and purpose in the corporation, both on an organisational and individual level.

Stephen Covey, Warren Bennis, Simon Sinek and Brene Brown have joined the discussion. A search of the literature and world wide web reveals many new books on the subject of bringing heart and soul to business. Steven Covey says there is a “spiritual renaissance taking place in the business world today.”

At the same time that corporate leaders are searching to discover ways to ignite commitment and performance, people working at all levels are seeking to find true meaning in what they do. There is a struggle to find what engages one at work at the deepest level.

The nature of work is changing in our world today. Job security is gone. The rapidly changing job environment causes many of us to ask ourselves questions such as, “What is the true meaning or purpose in my work?”

Here are four personal questions that are worth asking:

  1. What is my purpose here?
  2. How can I bring more meaning to my work?
  3. Is this job what I am really meant to do?
  4. Is there a place for me and my true values in this workplace?

A vice-president of a large UK corporation told me recently: “I knew my work was suffocating my soul but to admit it would be too devastating; it would mean that I had to do something about it!”

The fear of having to look at the possible meaninglessness of one’s work comes from the automatic thinking of, “Well, I have to work, I can’t just drop-out, and I can’t change my company, so I’d better not think about it at all.” But there are things the individual can do to find or recuperate meaning at work.

This is partly responsible for the sudden growth of micro businesses as well-educated mid-life individuals ditch corporate life and set up their own businesses. You can read my article published in The Guardian here.

A group of CEO’s of fast-growing technology companies were asked, “What will be the greatest challenge facing your organisation five years from now?”

More than half responded with something like, “We will be struggling with how to reignite commitment and help people find meaning in their work.”

Companies that can no longer offer security or pay raises grapple with how to foster loyalty and commitment. Technology companies have turnover rates of 12 to 17 per cent. With security gone as a carrot, a new generation of workers is looking for more from work than money. Personal balance is becoming increasingly important to both men and women.

For the person busily engaged in daily efforts, the crisis of commitment at work is highly personal: it threatens the inner sense of purpose, caring and vitality that makes work worthwhile. When a person has not found an inner purpose, their work becomes routine, tiring, boring and without energy. For some, this leads to irritability and difficult interpersonal relations. For others, there can be burnout and depression. For a small few, there is even violence, disruption of work and not-so-subtle forms of sabotage.

Finding a sense of meaning improves competitiveness

For corporations – big or small – the degree that each worker can find meaning in their work will be reflected in the quality of commitment and excitement (or lack of it) that is present in the workforce, and ultimately in the competitiveness of the business.

Behind the grumbling and cynicism found in most workplaces, there is a longing to find true meaning and some joy or enthusiasm on the part of most individuals. We love to laugh at the cynical humour found in Dilbert, the comic strip that declares, “All people are idiots!” At a more profound level, however, we crave proof to the contrary.

When companies offer their people training and workshops designed to rekindle their enthusiasm and commitment, there is often scepticism and resistance. Participants groan about another management fad for “empowerment, quality improvement, team-building, visioning” and so on. These are great techniques and procedures for changing organisational behaviour. Many positive changes occur after such workshops. Often the change is short-lived. Traditional change efforts are only effective when they address deeper personal levels.

It is no longer sufficient to have a job; many people are seeking a fuller life at work, one that is consistent with the larger focus of their lives. It is becoming more common to hear workplace discussions of “meaning,” “purpose,” “spirit” and “passion.” These ideas are now seen as a vital component of workplace satisfaction, which in turn affects performance and productivity.

So my question today is what are you doing to ensure you gain the fulfilment you desire from your work?

Let me know in the comments below

Suzanne