Leadership Blog Series: The Value of Meaningful Work

Written by Sharri Margraves, Director for HR Organization and Professional Development

Have you had the opportunity to engage recently with a project or team that inspired you and connected you to the larger significance of the leadership work you do here at MSU? One of my favorite teams I had the opportunity to work with over the past couple of years is the team for “Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace” which jointly developed the series of the same name. The magic in this project was how everyone involved recognized that the problem we wanted to address was complex and more extensive than any single department could attempt to resolve. Creating this series together was cathartic as well as synergistic as we leveraged our growing trust and each person’s expertise.

The series was offered through modules for all leaders at MSU because we realized administrative and academic leaders did not always understand their roles and responsibility to the organization in shaping the desired culture and being accountable for the results. Commitment to helping MSU move forward to fulfill our promise as a premier institution remains at the core of this team’s focus.

We were reflecting on the challenges of work — namely the compounding pressures of behavior issues, finding great candidates, disengagement, burnout, and how leadership impacts all of these. Participating on this organic team greatly enhanced my work life, resilience and engagement, especially during the pandemic, and reminded me of the critical importance of meaningful work.

Discover Meaningful Work for Yourself

Meaningful work does not have to be one big project; often, small opportunities can make all the difference to our work lives, help stem the “great resignation,” and enhance our collective wisdom to help make MSU a great place to work.

Recent research focused on working populations around the world found the most powerful predictors of retention, performance, engagement, resilience, and inclusion in employees’ answers to these three questions:

  1. Was I excited to work every day last week?
  2. Did I have a chance to use my strengths every day?
  3. At work, do I get a chance to do what I’m good at and something I love?

Within the “Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace” collaborative team, the group saw the greater purpose behind creating resources helpful to staff and faculty throughout the organization. The personal impact of creating something that transcended our work gave many of us a renewed sense of purpose and engagement — particularly during very challenging circumstances when the work is stressful and thankless. Trust was built through a series of circumstances, and trust contributes to greater resilience and engagement.

Help Your Team Discover Meaningful Work

The truth is, we are not going to love everything about our work. However, if we can continually commit to building trust in our teams and help ourselves and others connect our work with what we love and value, we will reduce burnout and increase engagement. These sound like lofty goals, but strengthening this approach with your team can be as simple as committing to ask your direct reports and teams these four questions regularly:

  1. What did you love about last week?
  2. What did you loathe about last week?
  3. What are your priorities for the coming week?
  4. How can I best help?

I am interested in how this deceptively simple activity helps you and your teams. Feel free to use the comments section or contact me at prodev@hr.msu.edu. Looking to dive deeper into building trust and creating meaningful work? Resources to get you started are included below.

Additional Resources

Sources

Members of the Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace team included representatives from:

  • Faculty and Academic Staff Development
  • Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs
  • Office of Employee Relations
  • Organization and Professional Development
  • Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
  • Prevention Outreach and Education
  • MSU Department of Police and Public Safety
  • MSU Office of the University Ombudsperson

Buckingham, Marcus, 2022. Designing work that people love. Harvard Business Review, Vol 100 issue 3, pg. 68-75.

Gladwell, M. 2022.  “Love+Work: How to find what you love, love what you do, and do it for the rest of your life. Harvard Business Review Press.

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