Finding meaning in work increases the satisfaction and bottom line of not only the employee but the employer period. It’s a proven fact, according to researchers, that employees who find meaning in their work benefits the organization.

We all know of the survey taken by the Gallup poll in 2013 that shows the workforce in the United States. Only 30% enjoys what they do, which means that 70% are not enjoying this satisfaction in their work (Gallup polls 2013). This costs United States companies a loss of billions of dollars in revenues.

According to researchers, people who choose a career that they felt called to do find purpose in those careers or a connection to their career, which benefits both themselves and the organization.

For example, take the study done on the zookeepers by researchers Bunderson and Thompson. They found that the surveyed zookeepers found passion in their work. Many would volunteer months and even years to get a covenant permanent position on staff with an annual salary of $25,000. The job description involved scrubbing concrete or ceramic floors enclosures and cleaning up animal waste, which sometimes onlookers saw as demeaning work (Journal of Vocational Behavior, 2011).

What makes the zookeepers passionate about their jobs or about their work? Both researchers found that when pinpointing the real reason behind their enthusiasm of working as a zookeeper, they found the job had value and they looked at their jobs as a calling, which added meaning. The zookeeper felt a deeper connection to the bigger mission, not only caring for the animals but maintaining and preserving the entire species.

In his book, Leadershift, John Maxwell (2019) explained that a calling is bigger than a career. He described a calling as a change of perspective and worldview. He continued by saying that your calling shifts your focus on seeing your job or career as being a responsibility and an obligation to seeing opportunities.   

Reflecting on the zookeepers, they saw their responsibilities as opportunities to become a part of something bigger than them. The researchers explained that the more the zookeepers saw the benefits in what they did the more they fed themselves psychologically (Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2010).

Even as a career soldier in the military who spent over 22 years including four deployments and participated in both Desert Storm and Desert Shield, I believed in what I was doing. I enjoyed what I was doing because I bought into the mission and vision of the Army. I wanted to serve and defend my country. My service was protecting our freedoms against foreign and domestic enemies. It was not a job or career. I had a purpose in doing what I did.  I served with distinction and pride. I enjoyed every minute of it. When I retired from the military in 2004, I continued serving as a Department of Defense civilian. I feel honored in my continual support of the warfighter (soldier) on the combat field is getting the necessary equipment supplies and services that is needed to fight and deter foreign enemies. I find meaning and purpose in what I do. Therefore, I was satisfied. Researcher Rosson in his survey found that defining meaning in one’s work increases motivation, empowerment, engagement, career development, and job satisfaction. Additionally, it reduces absenteeism and stress on the job. (Organizational behavior, 2010).

Employers need to help employees understand and know the overall mission and vision of the organization. In the military as a new commander taking charge of a unit or battalion command, it was imperative that he or she communicated the mission and vision to the subordinates within 30 days of taking command. This is done in writing and group discussions.  Clarity is important!

A few days ago, I attended a new employee’s orientation that was required for all new employees. My main boss spoke and shared his vision, its importance in the overall picture of the organization, goals for the organization, and his passion for inclusiveness. Additionally, he spoke for about an hour and a half, which didn’t seem like it. However, when he finished, I had a clear understanding and felt empowered to carry out the mission and goals of the Army organization. Look out for its pitfalls, embrace its priorities, and build towards its future.   

Everyone attending the orientation saw empowerment, purpose, and meaning. I am sure all in the room will do great and wonderful things.

Job satisfaction is not only the burden of the employee to find meaning and motivation to perpetuate the mission and vision of the organization, but the employer to guide, direct, and clearly state to the employee its purpose.

Derrick Darden, PhD

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