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Is meaning missing at work?

The Meaning Of Meaning was the semester course on English literature at my High School in 1978. I remember this because it was the most interesting thing I ever learnt at school – although at the time I thought of it as an theoretical line of enquiry with little or no real value.

Today I realise how limited my view of ‘the meaning of meaning’ was. Because when I walk the floors of Level 24 in one or other tall Sydney CBD office block I cannot but help notice how lifeless it feels – and sounds – simply because the people working there have no ‘greater reason’ to be doing what they’re doing than a salary deposit into their bank account in the middle of the month. In other words, the meaning of their work is missing.

John Seely Brown ran Xerox Parc – the research and innovation heart of Xerox – and had this to say on ‘the meaning of meaning’;

When it comes to attracting, keeping, and making teams out of talented people, money alone won’t do it. Talented people want to be part of something that they can believe in; something that confers meaning on their work and on their lives; something that involves a vision. The kind of vision that offers people a chance to do work that makes a difference.

I love this quote. I read it in a book about ten years ago, and it’s given me the confidence and the courage to do what I do best viz. give people the chance to do work that they believe in.

Meaning at work is about having a ‘greater reason’ to do what you do beyond “I do it so I can earn money and pay my bills”. A survey of Middle Managers found that 75% of them think the number one reason their people come to work = for the pay cheque. In the same survey their people cited their number one reason for coming to work = being treated with respect. Yes, it appears that good old fashioned R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is all we’re wanting at the end of the day – and I don’t think any of us need a research company to tell us that [except perhaps the Middle Managers who wear their Middle Management Corporate hats].

The way I see it is… along with the traditional bottom line, companies have a second bottom line = a return on human investment that advances a larger purpose. A powerful vision, that is both a magnet and a motivator. A motivating ‘reason why’ we exist and do what we do, every day.

And the greatest meaning-machine of them all is your BRAND. What is our vision? What do we do? How do we do it? Why do we do it? These are brand questions. And the answers to these questions – and the meaning attached to your answers – are fundamental to the success of any business or organisation.

Personally speaking, why do you do what you do? To get a salary deposit into your bank account in the middle of the month? Sure, that’s an important reason to work. Is it the BIG reason you come to work?

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