An eye-opening, yet perhaps unsurprising poll by YouGov in 2015 found that 1/3 of British workers find their work unfulfilling, with only 50% of British workers finding their work ‘meaningful’ (37% found their work not meaningful and 13% were unsure). I can’t help think that these figures represent a lot of hours of ‘meaningless’ work so I did some crude maths. I calculated that these YouGov figures indicate that at least 484,700,000 hours of meaningless work are carried out each week in the UK (40 hours a week multiplied by 37% of the working population of 32.75 million (Office for National Statistics, 2019)) – close to half a billion. Wow.
Now of course, what an employee perceives to be meaningless might not be meaningless for everyone. After all, profits are being made, wages received and processes completed. But on an individual level, it does appear to be a lot of time and energy wasted. If those half a billion or so hours a week were put into ‘meaningful’ work, imagine what could be achieved.
So how important are values and how can we take advantage of them to make work more fulfilling?
We all value different things. For some it’s leadership, recognition and power. For others its safety, comfort and helping others. For most, it’s a complex combination of things. But when work meets our values, work becomes purposeful; it serves the purpose of achieving what we find important in life And with purpose, comes happiness, according to Prof. Paul Dolan (Professor of Behavioural Science at LSE), who believes that happiness is achieved by focusing on fun and purposeful activities. If work can tick these two boxes, you’re on the right path.
When a leader knows what each of her or his staff value and recognises these values, they allow their team to be fulfilled. Praise, recognition and the provision of personal development opportunities are key values for most people. But what if you know that Ted loves to solve problems and Dina values independence in order to do her best. A leader who allows each of their staff to utilise, explore and work with their individual values empowers their team to be fulfilled and reach their potential. And if you don’t know what each person values the most in your team, give them an exercise to complete that they can send back to you (you’ll find plenty online).
Written by Sarah Morris. The e-learning Feel Great @ Work course includes exercises on values, and making work purposeful and fun.