Posted in: news

18th August 2015

Purpose: The Ultimate Driver of Workplace Satisfaction

When did you last jump out of bed eager to go to work? According to Gallup, 87% of people hate their jobs. That’s a lot of negativity flowing through the workplace!

The B Team’s People Innovation Network is trying to create happier workplaces by developing new ways of working. At a recent People Innovation gathering, the team explained how it’s helping some of the world’s largest companies become 100% Human at Work, which involves employers looking at people as human beings rather than as resources.The following are the three most important takeaways from the gathering.

Workers need to recognize what is missing

I know what it feels like to be fed up on the job. I used to work in the public sector, where dwindling budgets consistently forced me to do more with less. It took a trip to Iceland last August to realize what had been missing in my career. As I stood surrounded by glistening glaciers, black volcanic beaches, technicolor rainbow waterfalls and lush greenery, I realized I wanted a job in which I contributed to the wider world.

When I got home, I quit and went through what I now call my “purpose crisis”. I decided I wanted to work with an organization that cared about its people and went out of its way to make the planet a better place.

This wasn’t an unusual decision: young people around the world are suffering what’s been dubbed a “quarter-life crisis” as they hurtle towards 30. I realized that I hadn’t been seeking pure happiness at work; rather, I wanted to find meaning.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology explored the difference between happiness and meaning. The survey, which included 400 Americans ages 18 to 78, defined happiness as “mainly about getting what one wants and needs”. By comparison, “meaningfulness was linked to doing things that express and reflect the self, and in particular to doing positive things for others”.

Put another way, the authors explained, “Happiness went with being a taker more than a giver, while meaningfulness was associated with being a giver more than a taker.”

Find an organization that cares about the things you care about

The financial crisis led to a collapse in trust among consumers. Since then, many organizations have addressed social and environmental challenges as a way to rebuild their reputations. The challenge to rehabilitate themselves is further complicated by social media, which exposes brands to direct criticism by giving consumers the tools to launch viral campaigns.

At the People Innovation gathering, Geoff McDonald, Unilever’s former human resources global vice president, addressed his company’s approach to water conservation. Faced with the fact that many of Unilever’s products require customers to use “significant amounts of water”, the company had to consider how water shortages could affect its business. It responded by looking for innovations that reduce consumer water usage.

The key, McDonald emphasized, lay in “use of water.” Unilever, he argued, “can be an enormous force for good in addressing some of the social and environmental challenges our world faces. In so doing we also meet a consumer need and thus grow business.”In water-scarce countries, a third of water is used to clean clothes. In response, Unilever developed “One Rinse,” a product that enables users to launder with less water. In the process of developing it, Unilever also explored the importance of being a good business. Since 2009, Unilever’s work to embed purpose into its organization has increased its share price, improved employee engagement and increased its attractiveness as an employer.

Understand the role of happiness at work

In a recent TEDx talk, Nic Marks, founder of Happiness Works, explained the role of happiness in business success. The “standard formula for life”, he said, is that hard work leads to happiness in retirement. The reality, he argued, is the other way around: “Happiness leads to success. When we are miserable at work, we do miserable work.”Happiness, Marks said, is a social emotion: “It helps us to build relationships by appearing approachable. It also leads to better performance and creativity, which drives innovation and business success.”It is not realistic to think that we can be happy all the time at work, but organizations can definitely become happier.

At the People Innovation Network Gathering Marks offered five suggestions for creating a happier workforce:

  1. Connect with workers by fostering better relationships between employees and with customers. As part of this, think about enhancing collaborative spaces.
  2. Be fair to your workers. Pay them fairly and ensure that they have a good work/life balance.
  3. Empower your employees. Delegate more and ditch micromanagement.
  4. Challenge your workers. Search for the “sweet spot” in which you stretch people without overloading them.
  5. Inspire your workers by communicating the bigger picture of what you’re trying to achieve.

Speaking at the People Innovation Network gathering, Ajaz Ahmed, founder of digital marketing firm AKQA, emphasized the daily nature of good management to create happy workplaces: “Often it is regular, small kindnesses which make a major difference to people’s lives rather than grand gestures."

The ultimate lesson of the People Innovation Network’s efforts is that folks don’t want to come to work, be miserable and do a bad job. To combat these issues, they need a work culture that allows them to get on with tasks, collaborate across the company, discover new things and suggest ideas without fear. A satisfying work life isn’t simply a pursuit of happiness; it requires meaning and the realization that our work has a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Emily Turner is Entrepreneurship Content Manager at Virgin Unite.