Help Them See the Impact of Their Work

Let’s face it. Not every job is challenging. Not every job is exciting. How then, as leaders, can we help people be enthusiastic about their job no matter what their job is? We need to help them see the benefit of the work they do.

Several years ago, my mother spent a couple of days in an emergency room. The overcrowded New York hospital had a bed shortage and was not able to transfer her to a regular room for two days. As I spent time there, I couldn’t help but notice one particular hospital employee.Employee engagement, meaning of work

He came by every couple of hours to empty the trash and mop the floor. He was an older man with curly hair and a huge smile. He’d hum to himself as he worked, and did his work efficiently and effectively.

Each time he came by, he’d spend a few minutes wisecracking with my mother, and flirting with my sister and me. He was a delightful man who clearly enjoyed his job.

“Why is this guy so happy?” I wondered. “His job doesn’t look like much fun. All day, he has to empty trashcans and mop the floor. Maybe he even has to clean the bathrooms. I wonder why he’s so cheerful.” I was really puzzled.

By the second day, I couldn’t stand it any longer—I had to ask him. “James,” I asked, “your job doesn’t look very fun to me. Yet you walk around singing all day; you talk to people, and you make them laugh. How do you have so much fun mopping the floor?

The impact of his work

James looked me directly in the eye. He leaned on his mop. He stopped and thought a second. “You don’t understand,” he said. “My job’s about a whole lot more than mopping.” I was all ears. I figured he was going to tell me about some other, more enjoyable duties that I didn’t know were part of his job.

“You see,” he continued, “when people come in here, they’re all stressed out. Something bad happened to them or to someone they care about. They usually don’t know what’s going to happen. I get to make a difference. I get to joke with them, or say something nice, or tell them everything’s gonna work out. I get to be something good that happens to them today.”

James had spoken to me from his heart. With tears in my eyes, I thanked him. I realized he was the wisest person I’d met in that hospital so far. James knew the impact of his work. He knew the difference he made. He knew how he influenced lives.

What if claims processors in insurance companies focused on the outcome of their work? What if they were reminded that, by doing their job, a woman with breast cancer has her medical bills paid, a family who had a fire in their home gets to rebuild, or the wife of a man who died will be provided for?

What if a prep cook in a restaurant whose task is simply to cut up vegetables was focused on the fact that by doing their job, people were getting wonderfully nutritious food that would give them vibrant energy and health?

What if the people who did the hiring for your company realized that they held the future of your organization in their hands? What if they knew, without a doubt, that your employees are what differentiate you from the competition, and were focused on the difference they made in the organization?

What if the people in your department had a clear vision of the impact of their work? This might be how it makes a difference in the world, how it ties in tightly to accomplishing team or company goals, or how it makes a difference to the internal or external customer. Help them see the meaning of their work.

How might you do this?

• Have them talk to customers or clients. Let them hear first-hand the value that their work has.
Share any information that shows the end use of their product or service.
• Engage them in tying their results to the goals and the bottom line or mission of your organization.

Knowing and valuing the importance of their work increases commitment, increases job satisfaction, and enhances performance. Helping your people see how they make a difference helps you build a culture of success.

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