Saturday, April 28, 2012

Of High Morale and Meaningful Work

The way to sustain the high morale of valued staff is to:

  • Remind them of the higher purposes that your organization is working toward
  • Define goals that constitute tangible steps toward the attainment of those higher purposes
  • Show them how their labor will advance those goals and, when progress is made, how their efforts contributed directly to the outcome.

Yes, workers want to be fairly compensated and recognized for their achievements but what they want even more is meaning in their lives.  In our workaday world meaning is derived from seeing the results of our efforts, especially when they benefit others.

Years ago, I spent a Labor Day weekend cutting, splitting and stacking wood for my aging mother and father in-law.  Wood was their primary heating source for the winter.   For three days, my brother in-law, a neighbor rose at dawn and worked until dusk.  We ate heartily without fear of putting on an ounce and slept, appropriately enough, like logs.  At the end of the three days, our muscles ached but we had the immense satisfaction standing back and admiring three cords of newly cut, cleanly split, neatly stacked wood along the rail fence that ran adjacent to their garage.  We could see how much we had accomplished and take enormous satisfaction in knowing our work would keep Pauline and Cash’s house warm throughout the cold months.

Yet for too many, work is like a run on the treadmill. They expend a good amount of energy but never get anywhere.  They see few or no results and rarely know how they have bettered the lives of others.   The best workers find only limited satisfaction in meeting metrical or monetary goals.  They don't mind working hard or putting in extra hours if they can tell themselves or their loved ones that it was worth the effort.

High-minded ideals are wonderful but they need to be coupled incisive strategies that illuminate the way forward.  Without the path of a plan that tempers our organization’s aspirations with the realities to be faced, we wish and wander and wonder if we’re making a difference.  If we are not show a way to lend our talents and labors to those most in need of them, we work toward ends that feel empty when attained.

If you identify with these sentiments, let me ask you a favor.  Go back over the preceding paragraphs and substitute “philanthropists” and “donors” for “staff” and “workers.” You will see the same holds true.

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