People tend to underestimate and undervalue the power of meaning in work.  People don’t understand the magnitude of the importance of meaningful work.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely presented two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work in a Ted Talk he gave at TEDxRiodelaPlata.  His experiments didn’t even include much meaning, but the more meaning there is to our job the larger the effect.

We understand meaning is important, but we don’t highlight or advertise the meaning to prospective applicants.  I think we should.

This requires that we coach and mentor hiring managers, because many of them do not understand the power of meaningful work.  This will not only affect talent acquisition, but also retention and engagement.

Most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose.  Managers need to be aware of this and to not take away from the sense of purpose or making progress.  There are potentially whole projects that could involve coaching managers to start with purpose in creating positions and maintain purpose throughout working life in specific jobs.  There is much I could say going down this rabbit hole, but I will just stick to talent acquisition.

The purpose and meaning we seek often comes down to helping others.  So maybe we should be asking hiring managers during our initial meetings the question, “how does this job help others” and “who is helped?”

This can be people helped internally (within the company) and externally (customers), but we should create lists of who is helped and how this job helps others.  We want to delve into the purpose and meaning of the job and present the job publicly in terms to how it helps others.

Think about people working in technical support.  Instead of seeing a job description like this:

We are a small but fast paced software company looking for career minded individuals. Help our clients with technical assistance on our software products. We are looking for individuals with patience, persistence and ability to problem solve in order to help our customers. A strong computer background a plus but we will provide the right person with training.

Perhaps we can introduce the position and describe it in this way:

We believe that technical support is a heroic calling.  Some of our customers are having a very bad day and having a problem with our software product…they desperately need help and are hoping you can save them.  They need a hero to rescue them from the situation they are in and make it a good day.  It is vitally important to have patience, persistence, problem solving, and people skills to save them.  When you finish rescuing one of our customers, you then can immediately be a hero for the next customer who needs help.  Ideally, you already have a strong computer background, but we are willing to train people who just want to be technical support heroes.

Yes, the first one did mention that you are helping our clients/customers, but I think the second highlights and focuses on the helping others part far more.  Also, it tells more of a story – which is an important marketing principle to make ads more effective.

What could be the benefits of doing this?

  • Easier to recruit the targeted group that find the story and purpose calls to them.
  • Less turnover and higher productivity if during work they are shown how they are making steady progress and see the fruits of their actions (perhaps thank notes from customers as it highlights the meaning again) and the fruits of their actions are shared more broadly and publicly (recognition via company-wide mentions).

Of course, going the hero route for technical support positions does mean that to be consistent we have to treat them with respect and facilitate pride in their work.  We respect heroes.  Heroes have a status beyond what is normally given to technical support people.  So if you disrespect and/or you do not treat your technical support people very well…then don’t advertise it this way.

But imagine the kind of talent you could attract if you did treat them like heroes?  Heroes don’t tend to be paid well…they do it because it is their calling and they like the respect and pride they get from doing it.  Something to think about.



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