For the longest time we were counselled to keep work and home separate. Leave work at work and home at home. We thought that we could just shut down parts of ourselves as we moved back and forth between the two.
Research is showing us that it doesn’t work that way. A study by Marshall and Kelly Goldsmith has shown an “incredibly high correlation between people’s happiness and meaning at work (something I call spirit at work) and happiness and meaning at home.”
Because work and home are such different environments, the researchers concluded that whether we experience happiness and meaning tends to depend more on who we are than where we are. So they suggest that if we are going through a negative work life experience, that we ought to be looking within rather than blaming others, our jobs or our communities.
In my own research, I have found that it is not so much what we do, but how we do it and how we view it that leads to spirit at work. This is where the “rethinking” part comes into play. As we start to think about whom we are serving and how our work makes a difference in the lives of others, our experience of work and how we feel about ourselves changes. The more we contribute, the deeper meaning and fulfillment we experience and that leads to an increased sense of wellbeing.
Somewhat different from the Goldsmiths, I have found that people who experience spirit at work see its creation as a shared responsibility. Shared between the employee and the employer. Tapping into their personal power, they take responsibility for creating a positive work experience. At the same time, they hold the organization accountable to create the conditions that foster spirit at work.
The Goldsmith’s research had another finding worthy of report. “Overall satisfaction at work increased only if both the amount of happiness and meaning experienced by employees simultaneously increased.” They needed to experience meaning and fun – both at home and at work – to feel satisfied.
At first glance, I was surprised by this finding. Until I thought about people in the helping professions like nurses, teachers, and social workers; employees exposed to difficult situations (e.g. police, medical emergency teams); others with great decision making responsibility (e.g., CEOs, Deputy Ministers, emergency doctors) or advocates. It became so clear that while their work was meaningful and had potential for long-term benefit, they needed opportunities to lighten up. To have fun. To enjoy short-term satisfaction. To re-energize.
Similarly, employees who are in jobs that appear meaningless need an opportunity to see how they are making a contribution. The focus on high short-term satisfaction quickly loses its lustre. That is why in my work, I help employees, regardless of position, uncover the deeper meaning of their work.
I am not surprised about the high correlation between our experience at work and home. We are only fooling ourselves if we believe that we can separate work and home or community. It takes an extraordinary amount of energy to keep them separate and even more so if we are experiencing difficulties.
What can we apply from this research to the workplace?
- Uncover the meaning in your work and in your life. Seek alignment between the two.
- Manage your energy. Refill your cup.
- Have fun. Celebrate successes.
- See your work as an act of service. Who are you serving and how is it contributing?
- Develop a sense of community at work. Encourage teams. Promote purpose and fun.
- Get interested in your colleagues. Take time to know them.
- As an employee, take responsibility for your own wellbeing and spirit at work.
- As an employer, create the conditions for employee well being and to foster spirit at work.
- Accept that work impacts home and vice versa and do what you can to support both.
- As an organization, be clear about the deeper purpose of the organization.
- Rethink your work. Get to the heart of what matters about your work.
Val Kinjerski, PhD, is a leading authority in the field of employee engagement and on the topic of “spirit at work.” A consultant, agent of change and inspirational speaker, she helps companies and organizations increase employee retention and boost productivity by reigniting employees’ love for their work. Check out her Spirit at Work Program and Inspired Leadership training at www.kaizensolutions.org. Val is the author of Rethinking Your Work and Rethinking Your Work Guidebook. Available now at www.rethinkingyourwork.com.