A third of our adult life is spent at work. Another third is approximately spent asleep, leaving behind the final third as our time to do everything else. For many of us it is the last third that brings meaning to life, and with work encroaching into this time, we all feel that we are losing time and that we must find that work/life balance again. I agree wholeheartedly, that we need work/life balance, but I also agree that it is time that people looked for meaning in their work. Some people view their work as their calling and we often think of doctors, teachers, or religious leaders as being drawn to the profession and serving a greater purpose, but I would argue that while the rest of the professions may not be “calling” to us, we all serve a greater purpose and should embrace such an outlook; moreover, leaders should reinforce this philosophy in their groups and organizations.
First, given that we spend at least a third of our life at work, it behooves us to find meaning in our work, and that begins with finding meaningful moments at work. Filling out paperwork, or sitting in meetings all day may not be things that bring us joy and purpose, and it is okay if they don’t, but find a task or a project that makes you feel that you are contributing towards something bigger. Bigger means that it fulfills your creative side, or gives you an opportunity to learn, or leads to a different skill set, maybe something that you would consider doing in your off-work time (or close to it). It may not come right away, there may be several steps that lead to you getting into that position where you can take on more or find something meaningful, but it’s time to begin looking at such goals and opportunities.
Second, and this is for the leaders and executives - it is your job to cultivate a culture of engagement and meaning. Too many companies are focused on bottom-line type stats or goals and they end up losing out on good people or opportunities because work is work and it’s not about meaning; it’s about getting the task at hand done. It is imperative that as a leader or executive you help your employees develop an understanding of their contributions to the bigger purpose or mission of the organization. Engaged workers are productive workers and that helps the bottom line far more. If a person walked in off the street, each of the employees should be able to articulate a greater vision or mission of the company that they are helping to fulfill.
The most memorable example of embracing an outlook of meaning and creating a culture of meaningful work still remains to be when during a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, "Hi, I'm Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?"
"Well, Mr. President," the janitor responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon."
To most people, this janitor was just cleaning the building. But in the more mythic, larger story unfolding around him, he was helping to make history.