The purpose of work

Over the years I’ve read and heard a lot about meaning in work. Finding purpose in what you do and how happiness can be found in almost anything that we want.

I’ve never completely been convinced about these arguments. In the same way employee engagement wants to make me poke out my own eyes with a rusty nail, the whole premise seems contrived. Because not all work can have meaning and not everyone wants to find meaning in their work. What worries me more about these things is that the argument feels patronising and explores work through a middle class, middle-income, professional lens.

If you’re holding down four temporary, part-time jobs, the last thing on your mind is finding meaning in the organisational vision and strategy. You just don’t want to get shafted by your employer, see your hours reduced, get charged for your uniform or have any losses deducted from your wage. You want to have some level of guarantee that you know how much you’re going to be taking home so that you can pay the bills.

But this isn’t just an economic argument. Even in the seemingly more stable office environment, some people want to come in, be treated like an adult, be allowed to do the job that they are paid for and get that pay and go home. In the same way that for many organisations, employees are faceless and interchangeable, for many employees organisations are similarly homogeneous.

This doesn’t mean that the world of work has to be grey and boring and impersonal. Far from it. By recognising that some people don’t give a flying fig about your company purpose or meaning, you’re recognise that they are individuals in their own right. If they want to get pay from work and meaning from their stamp collection, or saving small baby seals from being clubbed to death, that’s their choice. And choice is individual, and recognising individuality is the first step to creating a healthy organisation.

Instead of trying to deploy some sort of weird, HR Jedi mind control tricks, we should focus instead on making sure that there is a fair deal for all employees within our organisations, allowing them to prosper and enjoy life in whatever (legal) ways they chose to do. To use a favourite phrase of mine, we are there to create the theatre that allows our employees to make the performances of their lives. But we need to recognise that for some of them, that performance will be nothing more than a job.

Because our role is not to help people find purpose in work, our job is to make work better. Finding meaning and happiness is personal choice.

Delivery from evil

I don’t pretend to be an expert presenter. I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to speak across the world, but that doesn’t make me good. Fortunately I have friends like Laurie Ruettimann who take the time to feedback after they watch me speak and tell me how to be less of an arse (“Morrison, stop moving about so much”).

But having taken the stage and watched my fair share of presenters, there are a number of key crimes that I see coming up time and time again.

The overrun – When Dale Arden told Flash she loved him, “but we only have 14 hours to save the earth. She meant it. When Warhol said, “in the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”, he wasn’t messing around. The thing is, whilst the content you have is probably worth twice the slot you’ve been given, that’s the slot you’ve been given and if you can’t tell your story in the allocated time, you’ve not prepared hard enough.

The sh*t slide – “Now I know this one isn’t easy to see”. So, pray tell, why did you include it in the pack? I can’t tell you how frustrating I find it when people drop in a slide that has so much detail that you can’t read a thing. It’s lazy, it’s probably taken from a work deck that was printed out as a handout. Essentially the speaker is telling you that they can’t be bothered. Which is nice.

The slow death – Nobody makes you get up and present. At least not once you leave school. So you’ve either volunteered or you’ve been paid. In which case put a bit of feeling in it. Nobody wants to make love to a corpse and your delivery has to show that. Give some energy, some swagger, some enjoyment and some passion. And if you can’t muster it, don’t get on stage. It’s as simple as that.

The off topic – “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck”. The wise words of James Whitcomb Riley. And when I see a session called, “The connection between gastric bands and performance in HR” I expect the same. Don’t call your sessions something sexy and then deliver something akin to a nuzzling up with a cardigan wearing librarian. It just isn’t right.

The lone wolf – So you’ve spoken, you’ve done your thing. That’s the gig. What about the other speakers out there? The people that are also putting out for the collective appreciation. Especially if you’re on social media, go help a friend. That’s the least you can do. Doing your thing and heading off? Well it just makes you look like a bit of an attention seeking prat.

I know I missed some, but these are just my bugbears. And coming from guy who was rated “smug” by one attendee at his last conference, who am I to talk?

Give me a break

It’s that time of year again when we’re all starting, or thinking about starting, our Christmas break. The jumpers have been worn, the sherry drunk and the Christmas misdemeanours almost, ALMOST forgotten. It’s time for a break. A well earned rest.

And yet, whilst we all yearn for a break, I’m not so sure we give each other the same respect.

Meetings scheduled for the first couple of days back, reports sent on the last day before the holidays, actions completed and requirements passed on.

Because we need to get this off our list, off our backs and settle down for a Christmas break.

The thing is, have you thought about the person that you’re sending that email on to? The one that receives that report the day they are due to go on holiday, or has an important meeting land in the diary for their first day back?  Is this about getting things off your list, or do things really need to happen?

Are you making sure that those around you have a decent break too?

And it isn’t just about our work. What about those people working in the shops, for the courier firms, keeping our transport system going, our lights on and our internet working? Answering our calls and dealing with our queries, helping us to…..well switch off.

As you go away for your well deserved break, ask yourselves what you could do to give other people a break. At work, at home, when you’re out shopping, or dealing with that last minute issue. How do you want them to feel over the holidays, how do you want them to wake up on Christmas day?

Respect isn’t a once a year phenomenon, but once a year we can focus on how we can do more.

Enjoy your break and let other people around you enjoy it too. They may be working, but it doesn’t mean you have to make their lives harder. They may be off, but it doesn’t mean you need to make sure they’re thinking about the return.

Take a break and give others a break too.

It’s what we all deserve.

I’ll be back in the New Year with more ramblings and general grumpiness. Until then.

Peace out.