The importance of meaningful work

This week salt’s Claire Rudall talks about the value of meaningful work.  Greg Smith wiped $2.15 billion off Goldman Sachs’ market value in one fell swoop. […]

This week salt’s Claire Rudall talks about the value of meaningful work. 

Greg Smith wiped $2.15 billion off Goldman Sachs’ market value in one fell swoop. The company’s shares dropped 3.4 per cent as 3 million people read his open letter to the New York Times. Quite an impact for a lone senior manager.

So what was his gripe? What was the final straw for Greg as he faced the reality that the one job he’d had since college wasn’t his dream job after all?

Greg cited a lack of “meaningful work” as one of the reasons for his disillusionment, as well as some fundamental issues such as clients being referred to as “muppets” and colleagues focusing on “ripping them off”. So where did Goldmans go wrong for him? Was Smith simply no longer the right fit? Were his morals finally winning over his Wall Street credentials?

According to Andrew Hill (Financial Times), the answers lie in giving employees the opportunity to do meaningful work:

“Even quite small advances towards a goal energise staff, provided they are granted autonomy and the work itself is rewarding. Meaningful work doesn’t have to be about outlining the meaning of life.”

At salt, we define meaningful work in lots of different ways. Whether it’s working with clients who are helping business attract the right talent under tough market conditions (ManpowerGroup); working to promote flexible, decent work and the freedoms that it brings for individuals (Ciett); promoting transformational employment opportunities for young people in the Middle East and North Africa (EFE); or working with public private partnerships that drive progress towards Millennium Development Goals (Unilever / UNICEF partnership). Working to achieve results for clients against a clear purpose means a lot to us.

While Goldman Sachs does some impressive work in the area of sustainability, positive values need to be embodied throughout the culture of the organisation. If not, the good work lacks authenticity and that’s an increasing risk in business today.

Social media now forces transparency and muddies the water in terms of internal and external communications. The term “living the brand” doesn’t only apply to FMCG marketing strategies, it runs right through the heart of modern business. Organisations must be true to their values in order to be authentic. Behaving and operating in a way that is incongruent with those values is dangerous territory, regardless of how credible CSR and/or internal communications programmes may be.

So while you can’t please all the people, all of the time, it’s worth pausing for thought and considering what your employees would say about you.  If they had nothing to lose (and I’m assuming Greg Smith has a healthy savings account and the hint of a book deal in the bag), how would they describe their time with your company? What are you doing to enhance their experience? Does your workforce really believe in the organisation? Are they on side with your business strategy?  What do they say about work to friends/ family/ colleagues?

Engaging employees means aligning your workforce behind a common set of values and an agreed purpose and, most importantly, taking them on the journey with you. It’s not as straightforward as providing a healthy wellbeing programme (although that helps), or simply doing good in the community (a positive too). Business strategy must be aligned with employee engagement. If not, beware the next Greg Smith…

Photo credit: Pug Girl

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