The 5 Dimensions of Innovation. Why Engagement Matters.

Tonje Elisabeth writes about the importance of engagement and innovation. She describes 5 dimensions of innovation in the workplace.

Good workplaces

The philosopher Theodore Zeldin has given the world a challenge:
“When will we make the same breakthroughs
in the way we relate to each other
as we have made in technology”
My vision is that all children growing up today shall move on to workplaces that take good care of them, inspire them and understand how to play to their strengths. Their workplaces will be free of bullying. Their workplaces will enrich and enlighten their souls and make their hearts thrive and shine.

Why Thrive, Why Does Engagement Matter?

According estimates up to 50% of all jobs are in danger of being replaced over the next 20 years as a result of changes, digital disruption, robots, and Massive Internet of Things (MIoT).
Change processes create fear, uncertainty and stress. Stress in the form of possible job cuts, lack of communication in the process of change, and uncertainty for the company’s future. When a global company goes through a reorganization to cut costs and become more efficient, often the process is not conducted in a way that gives employees trust in their future in the company. The result is a lower commitment from employees, lower productivity that then affects customer satisfaction, sales and profits.
Research done by the Heart Math Institute shows that the brain does not distinguish between different amounts of stress. The effect is the same. Stress kills job satisfaction, motivation, enthusiasm and innovation. Scientists globally warn about the effects stress has on employees and encourage companies to teach their employees to manage stress better.
When employees feel satisfaction and enthusiasm about their jobs, it “turns on” all learning centers in the brain. This provides a greater focus, creativity, innovation, inspiration and smarter decisions. A positive work environment is a prerequisite for people in any company to be proud ambassadors.
Companies with engaged employees have 6% higher profit margin (Towers Perrins) and 5 times higher shareholder returns over a 5-year period (Kenexa).
According to Hay Group; Engaged staff in a good working environment will lead to:

  1. increased KPIs by up to 60%.
  2. a possibility of 4.5 times higher profit.
  3. people 54% more likely to stay in the company.
  4. 50% higher probability of exceeding expectations.

When we know that disengagement directly affects corporate earnings, it’s troublesome to find that only 13% of the global workforce is engaged at work (Gallup).

We have found that global, leading and innovative companies focus on areas that are combination of what we call

The Five Dimensions of Innovation.

Innovative, leading global companies manage to enable meaning, sharing, co-creation, well-being and emotion in the workplace.
Meaning 
People find their work meaningful when they feel worthwhile, useful and valuable – as though they made a difference and were not taken for granted. An example of a company that does well in creating meaning and reap it’s rewards is Starbucks. Over many years, Starbucks has built an ability to foster a relationship-driven, employees-first approach, which encourages staff to form close bonds with each other. Called “partners” rather than employees, even part-time staff (in the US) receive stock options and health insurance. At the height of the global financial crisis, when other companies were cutting HR costs wherever they could, Starbucks invested in staff training, including coffee tastings and courses that ultimately qualified for credit at higher education institutions. Starbucks employees help create a warm, friendly atmosphere in each store not because managers tell them to do so, but it’s the natural result of an inclusive culture.

Sharing

Foster internal sharing of information. It is not possible for people within an organization to be creative or to feel seen or heard if information is not shared internally and across departments. When employees receive the information they want and need, they are more committed to the company, are willing to exert discretionary effort, and their work is more meaningful. When an organization has employees with these characteristics, they have an engaged workforce.
An example here is SAP. The software giant SAP has not only made its mark in the technology arena, but has also won many employer awards, especially in the area of employment brand management. Communication is at the core of their culture, and SAP has a ‘How We Run’ set of behaviors described to make sure that employees understand how things are done and the ‘why’ behind their jobs.

Co-Creation

Enable co-creation – take down the silos, enable conversations across teams and departments, you never know which conversation might spark an idea and a new business opportunity. As long as we are passive recipients of processes designed by the company, our work experience tends to be mediocre—it’s not optimized for us, and we can’t influence it. But if we’re given the latitude to redesign our interactions, we can change the quality of our experience. Collaboration cannot be demanded but can be encouraged. By looking for collaborative skills during the hiring process, helping employees to develop these skills and fostering a culture of collaboration, companies can boost employee engagement and the bottom line.
An example here is Zara. Zara’s recipe for success is “more data, fewer bosses”. The company operates with little hierarchy, allowing its designers greater independence in what they do, from approving products to promotion to store supply. The company relies on data feeds which show which items are popular to alter each store’s stock so that revenue is maximised. While other fashion retailers were either filing for bankruptcy (American Apparel) or struggling with falling profit (H&M, Gap), Zara’s parent company, Inditex, showed an increase of 11% in revenue just in the first half of 2016.

Well-Being

Take care of their people’s well-being and also in regards to targets and goals. They need to feel that it is possible to reach the milestones you’ve set. Yes they should need to go out of their comfort zone to make it, however they won’t be productive if they feel overwhelmed. Well-being and engagement are not only highly correlated, but also mutually reinforcing. Bevan (2010) states, “The relationship between employee health and employee commitment and engagement is multi-faceted. Indeed, there is research evidence that suggests a two- way, possibly self-reinforcing relationship: healthy employees are more committed and committed employees are more healthy”.
An example here is Airbnb. The HR function was replaced with the Employee Experience Department, which works beyond conventional HR responsibilities such as recruitment and training. Airbnb employees are considered equally valued as customers: their workspace resembles homes rather than offices, they are empowered with the latest technology, and a food program ensures abundant energy for a whole working day. Employees are given a “home away from home”, which then translates into great customer experience and satisfaction.

Emotion

Leaders ability to lead with emotion – empathy and compassion will determine how successful the company gets. According to Hay Group’s study “Leadership and its effect on work climate” a leaders behavior and persona affects the work climate in a team by 50-70%, and that impact can explain as much as 28% deviation on the bottom line. Emotional intelligence is more important than any other skill, and managers have to learn to lead themselves and others with better self- knowledge, wisdom, flexibility and good attitudes to help to create a good corporate culture and increase engagement.
For any company it is extremely important to regularly measure (once a year is not enough) the employees’ positive and negative emotional ties to their own work and their own comfort; and see it in the context of the company’s employee and customer satisfaction, profit and growth. And then take action on the results. It is important for the future of the company to find out how employees feel about their job, their leader and in the company they are employed at.

Why Engagement Matters

Therefore – if you want to create a corporate culture you have to manage to make your people feel involved, like influencers, that they have room to create, where it is good interaction (co-creation) vertically and horizontally, that they have a job that provides and creates meaning, growth and development and that he/she think they are important and a part of a larger vision.

Picture Credit: People vector designed by Kjpargeter – Freepik.com

Is Motivation Really Necessary?

Motivation is a leader’s responsibility, says Tshamani Mathebula.
Motivation

Sundown vs Zamalek

On the 23rd October 2016 Sundowns FC, a South African Football Club played against Zamalek Sporting Club. Zamalek SC is an Egyptian Club and one of the best clubs in Africa. Sundowns FC won the game. They became the Confederation of African Football (CAF) champions for 2016. You can find more about the game here.
A few weeks later on the 19th November 2016, Sundowns had to play against the Kaizer Chiefs. Kaizer Chiefs is another South African Football club that has very good players. A few days before the game, an interview was held with the Sundowns’ coach, Pitso Mosimane. In the interview the coach said this: “I don’t know what to say to motivate the players. They have just won the CAF championship.  I am not a psychologist, so I don’t know how to motivate them further than this“.
The Coach’s response surprised and fascinated me. It made me think about how important motivation is and about the role of the leader in motivating employees. How honest and vulnerable should a leader be with their team and the public. Leaders do not need to be psychologists. However, it is their responsibility to motivate employees. This ensures that they improve their performance and productivity.

Playing to win

Sundowns went on to win the game against Kaizer Chiefs. This happened even though the coach had confessed in public that he does not know how to motivate them. Two things could have happened. First option:  he was honest with the players.  He probably told the players that he has nothing to say to motivate them. They must just go out and play the best game. The second option could be that the coach lied to the nation. He was able to motivate the players.
For this article, I choose to go with the first option. So let’s assume that the coach really did have nothing to say. So what could have motivated the players to win the game? And if this kind of dedication can happen in the soccer field, what stops it from happening within organizations?

Ensuring Employee Engagement

Leaders spend sleepless nights – and lots of money – trying to figure out how they can motivate their employees. There’s a lot of research on the importance of motivation on employee engagement. In addition to other motivating factors such as decent pay and good working environment, communication is one of the critical elements in motivating employees. In situations where employees feel disengaged and discouraged, exceptional leaders have given great speeches to motivate and inspire their team members. Leaders receive training to do presentations and public speaking. Organizations hire motivational speakers to motivate employees.
However, our case in point shows that sometimes it is not necessary to give a moving motivational speech when players go out to the field to play. At some point, employees need to take accountability of their actions and performance. They should not wait for the leader to always play the role of a “cheerleader”. And more, Sundowns players always receive nice bonuses when they win Championships.
The question is at what point can we say that employees have reached a level of maturity to be able to motivate themselves? It is also obvious that for employees to reach that maturity level, leaders would have worked hard in getting them there. When do you as a leader know that you have done enough?

Transformational Leadership and Motivation

Last year I completed my Masters research on “the relationship between the practice of transformational leadership and a high-performance culture”.  I found that employees place high value on intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation.
Literature refers to intellectual stimulation as “leaders’ actions that call on employees’ intellectual capabilities by challenging them to think creatively and find solutions to difficult problems”.
A definition of Inspirational leadership is  “the ways leaders inspire and encourage employees to accept challenging goals and to look beyond their self-interest. Leaders encourage high standards, express hope and empower their team members. In that way employees develop confidence in their skills, abilities and potential”. the word inspiration comes from the Latin word inspirer. It means to breathe into or to provide oxygen, and subsequently, life. This means that inspirational leaders give their team members a reason or purpose to work. Hence they find meaning and purpose in their work.
From the above description, it is clear that the Sundowns coach and leadership had done a lot of work to inspire and empower the players. So the coach knew that they had reached a maturity level wherein they can face any challenge and come up with creative solutions. The players are confident about their skills, abilities and potential. Furthermore, they know the vision. The coach has helped them to find meaning and purpose in playing soccer. In her book “the Secret”, Rhonda Byrne refers to this as inspired action. 

The Secret of Motivation

Inspired action happens when people work to achieve meaning in their lives. Something that is within them drives them. Not some extrinsic motivation. The members do not need a leader who is always by their side to cheer them on to achieve what they set out to do. So the challenge that leaders have is how to get employees to reach a level of inspired action.
 
 
More about Soccer Training from Sport-Fitness-Advisor.

Engaged People shape the World.

This is a post about engaged people. This week the Linkedin Group on Employee Engagement passed the threshold of 25000 active members. This doesn’t make it into an extremely large linked group. But it’s one of the older and biggest groups that focuses on Employee Engagement.

Why is employee engagement important?

There are probably 25,000 reasons why people join such a group and why employee engagement is important to them. Probably it’s because engaged employees do better, don’t leave, are willing to learn new things, are self-motivated and trustworthy. Those reasons are true. But there is one reason that surpasses all of these instrumental reasons:

 

engagement

Engaged People shape the World

Imagine a world without engaged people. Hardly anything would happen. There would be no evolution. No progress. People would sit there and wait. The days would be interchangeable. There would be no innovation, no problem-solving, no solidarity, … and probably no or lousy education.
If people engage they feel responsible (and vice-versa). Engaged employees excel. Engaged citizens take on political responsibility or volunteer. Engagement is everywhere:  in relationships, in friendship, in work, in leadership, in citizenship and in parenthood.
And we know what happens when it goes away: Misery.
So engaged people shape the world and the world had better be very grateful to them. And there’s no point in citing great leaders who took on a mission. They were engaged. But the world evolves through many engaged people on every level and section of society.
Some people say that the focus on employee engagement is a capitalist conspiracy to make people work harder for less money. It’s a sad thing that there are people who are trying to protect others against the state of engagement. Because engaged people are healthier and probably happier. And yes, they are also more productive. But probably that higher productivity enables them to lead a prosperous life.
And let’s not be naïve. Engagement levels are  not that high. According to a Gallup poll, only 13% of workers worldwide  are actively engaged. In the US about 24% of people volunteer. In the European Union it’s about 22-23%. The trend is declining.
Engagement leads to concrete behaviour. And it’s more than productivity. Organisational Citizen Behaviour (OCB) is the behaviour that people show outside of formal job expectations. OCB is the oil of the organisational machine. Without it, the organization grinds to a halt. But it requires engagement.
Engaged people shape the world. And that’s why the linkedIn group on this topic is relevant, more than ever.
 
 
 

Posts on hrchitects:

 
 
 

Workaholics can find the Hum of Life.

This Blog is about Workaholics. 

The Hum

I saw this amazing video on Ted Talk by Shonda Rhimes. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, she’s the writer behind TV-series like Grey’s Anatomy and How to get away with Murder. She talks about how she loves to work – she calls it the hum – but also how she got a burn-out and how she got over it. Check out this TedTalk, it’s really impressive.

Loving what you do (and doing what you love) is the right recipe for a long-lasting career. But the pitfall is that we exaggerate and do not find the right dosage. Success is addictive. So the more you get it, the more you want it. And this is a vicious circle from which it is difficult to escape.
We all know workaholics. Maybe you are one yourself. I am work. Work is me. And in fact, that is probably not true.
At the end of your Life you might look back and say: yeah, I did that. Yeah, I’ve been there. But work is probably not the most important part of your life satisfaction, or happiness. It’s about relations. It’s about who you have been to others. It’s about your relevance as a parent, a friend, a person. Shonda Rhimes refers to this as the Life Hum.

There will always be workaholics.

And there will be always a benefit of working hard. No sweat no play. There will always be workaholics too. And this is where companies should take heed. Workaholism might be beneficial. People do excess time. They produce a lot. But this is all short-time. Workaholics neglect their social relationships. Workaholics are triggered by high job demands, but not by warnings about their health. Let’s not make the mistake to confuse workaholism with engagement. Engagement is sustainable. Workaholism isn’t. But engaged people can become workaholics and they can fall in the dead-end of burnout.
Shonda Rhimes has a simple recipe. Say yes to things that are important but are outside work. Find the hum of Life. The better you are at doing that, the more you will feel and appreciate (again) the hum of work.
 

More Information

You can find more about workaholism here: http://www.wilmarschaufeli.nl/publications/Schaufeli/288.pdf
And here’s the link to the book Shonda Rhimes wrote: The Year of Yes.
 
The picture is the Düsseldorf Skyline taken from the old Harbor.

Relationships matter for Engagement (3/3)

relationships
 
 
 
 
This is the third of three blogs under the title
Individual Differences in Leadership and Engagement: Why Relationships matter. 

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory or attachment is the foundation that helps explain not only the importance of leaders relationships but also an individuals functioning effectively and their ability to engage with their work. Attachment gives deeper meaning to the behaviors and emotions that leaders see in others everyday but struggle to understand and deal with. Attachment helps to explain how individuals “survive” internal bouts of uncertainty, confusion, and fear, as well as organizational conflicts, and engagement in their work and relationships. Attachment also explains how behaviors, once necessary to perform and succeed, are now interfering with productive relationships, and hinders rather than advances individual and team performance.
John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, originally developed attachment theory. Attachment Theory describes the formation and quality of relationships between individuals, particularly during times of stress, uncertainty, and confusion. Attachment is widely considered one of the most influential, scientifically tested, theories of human behavior and emotional regulation within the workplace. Seven decades of research has shown that attachment is a universal characteristic that predicts an individual’s development of relationship competence and positive self-image, essential elements of a leader’s ability to engage and inspire others and to be inspired and engaged themselves.
When you work with a public that is often very demanding and fickle at the same time ,  economic conditions, as well as the globalization and diversity of the marketplace, and you add in the uncertainty of shareholder concerns, supply chain disruptions, advancing technology, and new and expanding government policies and regulations, these struggles are quite likely to create the types of anxious, confusing, and threatening circumstances that activate attachment. Attachment has four defining characteristics:

  • The primary feature is to  and maintain physical and psychological proximity to the caretaker, that special individual who is stronger, wiser, and more capable.
  • The second characteristic is that the attachment figure or primary caregiver acts as a safe haven or a source of comfort and security for the individual so that they experience diminished anxiety and/or relief from threatening circumstances.
  • Third, the attachment figure serves as a secure base from which the individual explores the social and physical world. Here that means he/she is free to engage with coworkers, leadership and the organization, to be innovative, and problem solve. Just as Mitzi was free to continue on with our morning walk.
  • Lastly, the individual experiences increased anxiety during unwanted or prolonged separation from the attachment figure.

Mental Models

Our early experiences actually shape our brain circuits and become represented as mental models of how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about others. Through repeated experiences, our mental models become automatic, acting at an unconscious level, and they have a lasting effect on future relationships and interactions at work!
By viewing the world through our mental models, all of us enact or construe experiences to fit their particular model. These unconscious strategies shape the way we interpret our interactions with clients, our coworkers, and managers, and affect the ways we behave towards others. Positive mental models become a source of strength, confidence, flexibility, and adaptability. Negative working models are a source of rigid or chaotic thinking that can lead to inappropriate or dysfunctional behaviors, the results of which stifle a person’s confidence and ability to actively engage with others and their work.
Because our brains are constantly bombarded with information. In order to do our work, our brains need to filter out and prioritize the information it receives. And when information is missing, our brains, based on this filtering, often fill in the blanks. Again, so we can go about our daily lives and function at work. That’s the good news! The bad news is that the brain also filters information and works to exclude information that goes against what we believe and expect from other people and about the circumstances or situations that we are in. And it does this even when there is evidence to the contrary. This is one of the big reasons efforts at organizational change can be so difficult.

Attachment Styles

Mary Ainsworth, a colleague of Bowlby’s, documented that these powerful mental models become organized into different patterns of behavior she called attachment styles. Currently four attachment styles have been identified.
The first attachment style is called secure. When the mother or caregiver consistently engages with an infant in a timely and appropriate fashion, any perceived “threat” is reduced. Then, the infant is able to calm down and she experiences her caregiver as reliable, helpful and supportive. The infant feels safe and secure in her world. Just as Mitzi felt safe with me.
Securely attached people have positive feelings about themselves and others, and can fully bring themselves towards their work and towards working with others, as well as learning new things (i.e. a new computer system). Moreover, if they run into difficulties, they feel confident that they can problem solve and/or gain support and help from their supervisor, manager or leader. The individual understands and balances the need for working alone and working together as a team.
Further, research findings show that when employees have a supportive, secure relationship with their leader, one where they feel a sense of security, they are more likely to trust others, work harder and follow directions, and to willingly devote themselves to the goals and objectives of the organization.
The second attachment style is called insecure/anxious. When an employee is faced with stressful situations and the leader’s responsiveness is out of sync with the employees needs, the employee experiences the leaders, or attachment figure, as unreliable, worries about the attachment figures support and accessibility, and is uncertain that relief from the stress will be provided. Their success at seeking and maintaining proximity to their attachment figure has been experienced as erratic, causing the employee to remain in a heightened state of anxiety.
Internally, the threat of disappointing, making a mistake, or not knowing makes the employee constantly strive to cover every eventuality. They constantly ask themselves, “Have I?” “Did I?”   “Will I?” And “What if?” This constant anxiety takes a lot of energy out of us and our brains will not allow us to remain in this chronic state of heightened anxiety for very long. This can lead to excessive feelings and behavior based on guilt, agitation, and even anger, as well as poorer work performance.
The last two types of attachment style occur due to a leader’s ongoing or constant failure to provide support and comfort to their employees, they have abdicated their responsibility as the stronger, wiser, and more capable attachment figure.
The insecure/dismissing individual holds a positive image of himself or herself but a negative image or distrust of everyone else. They have an over-inflated view of themselves and attempt to control their fear, their surroundings, and their relationships. Exercising control over their surroundings gives this individual the illusion of safety and security. In some cases, they may engage in the bullying of others and/or pretend neediness or friendship as a means to control others and relieve their own fears or uncertainties.
The fourth attachment style is insecure/fearful. An insecure/fearful individual has a negative image of themselves and lacks trust in themselves or others. Evidence suggests that these individuals appear to be the most susceptible as targets of exploitation or bullying. Highly sensitive and fearful of rejection, these individuals are professionally very competent and skillful and because of this, most likely to be the first ones promoted.
Employees in all four attachment categories experience varying levels of stress, anxiety and confusion, however it is how their leadership responds to their distress that in part determines how well the employee ultimately copes with the stress, anxiety and confusion, as well as engaging actively at work.
Attachment provides the ideal framework for studying leadership and engagement because it stipulates that the need for security and protection is universal and a fundamental need for all employees! What this means is that leaders have their own attachment needs to be concerned with. Therefore, leaders have a dual role to play: one is that of a caregiver, available, supportive and helpful to the employees, and the other as a care-seeker, needing their own support and help to meet the demands of leadership and functioning work. Imagine the conflict resulting from a leader or manager asking and promoting engagement when everything inside of them is saying something different!
In general, as leaders, the feelings of anger, frustration, helplessness, confusion and anxiety that you experience in response to employees, are all useful tools for recognizing how various attachment styles are brought into the workplace and interact with each other to help or hinder inspiring and engaging others and engaging with others.
The principle objective here was to indicate the importance of positive relationship functioning between leaders and employees and its importance to active engagement at work. While there are significant challenges relative to leadership and engagement remaining, this post suggests three of those challenges might be:

  • Where are YOU when it comes to providing the safe and secure environment? Like all positive, well-functioning relationships, if the leader is secure, then the promotion of safety and security for the employees is somewhat assured, freeing the employee to learn, develop and perform (i.e. engagement). However if the leader is insecure, then it’s quite likely the employees may adopt mistaken behaviors or actions he/she gets from the leader, under the mistaken belief that these behaviors and actions are the norm. In the latter case, the cycle of disrupted relationships continues, affecting the engagement of both of you.
  • Once you are aware of how relationships can hamper your efforts at inspiring and engaging with others, then you are in a better position to do something about it.
  • That we have widely different levels beyond which we begin to feel anxious and unsafe, and relief from these threatening circumstances becomes the primary motivator of our behavior.

Engagement is a choice, not a process. Engagement is a feeling, not a command. When threatening circumstances appear, leadership becomes a choice, and engagement happens when leaders choose to look out for those they lead, to provide an environment and the types of relationships that makes everyone feel safe and secure—just like with Mitzi and me (see the start of the first blog of this blog chain).
 
 
Note: This post is based, and has been expanded, on a talk given by Simon Sinek that is available on Ted.com. It is also based on a presentation I made at a leadership conference, May 2015, hosted by the Midwest Division of Quest Diagnostics in Denver, CO. Slides and complete citations for the presentation are available upon request.

Meaningful work

The meaning of work
A while ago I have read  Alain De Botton’s book “The pleasures and sorrows of work”. It’s a fascinating contemplation on why people work. De Botton touches with whit the full bandwidth of working. At the end he states that it’s better to work to prevent us from doing nothing. The meaning of working lies in the fact of being busy ?
Process vs Achievement
Compare it to a bicycle ride. Is the fact of reaching your destination, more important than the ride? What’s the meaningfulness of reaching your destination? If you’re into recreation you would say that you’d like to enjoy the view. And maybe you will state that the exercise itself is beneficiary. If you’re a competitive type you might want to reach your target before the others do, or in a better time than before. The meaningfulness is derived from your targets.
De Botton describes the passion of a painter who paints a multitude of similar paintings with nothing but a tree on it, and always the same tree. You might think that this is useless and even a little maniacal. Many artists and works of art would be categorized like that. So what’s the meaningfulness of the work of an artist ? He produces art for the sake of art.
Judgments
There are many professions that are looked upon by others in a judgmental way. I have friends who were not allowed to study what they wanted. The fathers made up a list of acceptable fields of study like economics, law, engineering and medicine. The other list was longer : history, psychology, philosophy, art, archeologgy, Latin, Greek, … These ‘useless’ studies do not teach you a real job and do not prepare one for the tough life out there, or there were simply too many people already unemployed after having studied this. The fathers thought it was in the best interest of their offspring to make a choice. But those fathers forget that children need to make their own choices.
And if you want to be certain to have a job, you might want to consider a profession like plumber, or carpenter. You might consider to be a craftsman. Where I live there is a shortage of good plumbers and carpenters. But those professions are often not on the list of people that want the best for their children. I think those jobs are very meaningful. Belonging  to the category of clumsy people, I have a high esteem for people that are able to keep my house dry and make sure that there is clean water running from the tap. To me it’s meaningful that a carpenter repairs the broken window or that the guy that mends my roof does it fast before the next rain is falling.
Meaningfulness derived from others
So where does meaningfulness come from ? It comes from the person whom you are doing something for. It must be great to be a plumber. People are happy when you show up. People are thankful that you have solved the problem. There is relevance.The same goes for teaching. Isn’t it great that you give your kids into the hands of a teacher when they are about 6 years old and that 6 months later they are able to read and write ? This is a great achievement. Parents should be thankful. I can draw up a list of professions that are very meaningful to people and society, even when they are not very popular. Judges, policemen, the men that collect the garbage, the nurse in a ward for the terminally ill, …
De Botton also describes the jobs of accountants and auditors. Someone states that without audits capitalism would not be possible. Auditing is a very peculiar profession. When the Sarbanes-Oxley (Sox) law came into place there was a massive increase of the audits being performed in companies. The tasks of those additional audits is to check on the governance, avoid scandals like Enron and detect risks as early as possible. Did it help ? No it did not. Fraud is still out there. Madoff was found out only years after Sox came into action. And he was only caught because of the real estate crisis that launched the biggest post-war financial crisis. He could not keep up the facade and no governing body had seen it coming. So is auditing meaningful ? Is it more meaningful than teaching children to read and write ? I cannot judge.
Again, where does the meaningfulness come from ? To me it comes from someone else but you. If you think what you do is meaningful, but you’re the only one, you might have a problem. The undiscovered artist that gets no acclaim could say that the whole world is wrong. Or he could decide to work for people who don’t know his work yet. But he’s working for an audience, even when it’s a virtual or future one.

Van Gogh
Portrait of Van Gogh

Van Gogh did not sell much during his lifetime. He was not rich when he died. He had only one big fan, his brother. Who did he paint for ? Was what he did meaningful, or mad ?
Meaningfulness and meaningful work is the key to engagement.