Could there be a map for finding meaning at work?

We think so. We had the pleasure of listening to Professor Marjolein Lips-Wiersma and Lani Morris at the Meaning conference in Brighton. We thought we would share a little more of their ideas – they did pose some challenging questions, but on a practical level, their map of meaning looks like a useful tool.

Our readers will be familiar with people trying to find both meaning and purpose at work, in order for them and the organisation to thrive.

Marjoleine Lips-Wiersma invited us to consider whether part of the problem is having one without the other (i.e. meaning without purpose or vice versa). She suggested that having purpose without meaning can be soul destroying (and may be, for example, the reason why so many teachers leave the profession feeling undervalued). In contrast, meaning without purpose lacks a sense of direction.

‘purpose without meaning can be soul destroying’

Leaders are essential for setting the purpose of an organisation, though they probably can’t actually create meaning for others (and meaning, we are told, is a fundamental human need). Meaning happens in every day experiences, having time to chat to a customer or to meet some personal need in your life – these may be tiny moments and are possibly quite personal.

Whilst leaders probably can’t create meaning for others around them, they can remove obstacles to others finding meaning in their work. Leaders may play an essential role in enabling their colleagues to experience meaning at work. Could what are sometimes heard as everyday complaints at work in fact be the absence of destruction of meaning?

‘Could …everyday complaints at work in fact be the ‘absence or destruction of meaning’?’

We were introduced to the Map of Meaning (and these ideas are expanded in a book ‘The Map of Meaningful Work’). The map invites people to evaluate and create their own meaning by considering four elements in their daily working life and whether they are being sufficiently met while at work. Employers who encourage their workers to do this and then enable the adjustments to be made, could reap the rewards with truly inspired workers.

The four elements involve people considering whether they are able to demonstrate the following in their lives:

– ‘Unity with others’ (working together with others)
– ‘Integrity with self’ (being true to themselves)
– ‘Expressing full potential’ (reaching and utilising their full potential)
– ‘Service to others’ (serving/helping others)

A simple map inviting workers to explore these ideas and then make small adjustments to their day-to-day work could have a significant impact.

We were reminded that this may not be simple – and that meaning comes from facing the struggle and being true to ourselves. It comes and goes across our lives and at different times we may need to express it in different ways.

Our comment

The map of meaning feels like it could be a useful tool. Annual reviews and people development are evolving - perhaps a Map of Meaning incorporated into a review process/one to ones, would also lead to some truly rich discussions?