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The Importance Of Work

November 27, 2009

“What do you do?” How often have you been asked that question?

If you travel by air, before your flight is over the person next to you is probably going to ask, “What do you do?”

When you’re standing in the corner sipping champagne at your wife’s second cousin’s wedding, some stranger is certain to approach and ask, “What do you do?”

What they really want to know is what you do for work. Are you a salesman, an artist or a carpenter?

The powerful implication in the frequency of the question, “What do you do?”, is that work is important to us. It is not merely our means of support, it is, to a large extent, how we see ourselves in the world.

I don’t mean that our work rivals God, family or country, but it is a way in which we differentiate ourselves from others. It is largely the way in which the world views us.

Do you need more convincing? Read the obituary column on any day. “John Doe, banker…Mary Smith, writer…Tom Johnson, salesman.” Even on the exit end of life we are identified through our work.

Protestations to the contrary, a job is always more than “just a job”. Despite the endless talk of waiting for lunch, waiting for the day to end, waiting for the weekend, waiting for vacation and finally waiting for retirement, our work is far more important to us than just a means of support.

This simple fact forms the basis for all of the “make work meaningful” theories of management. Forget all the bells, whistles and window dressing that accompany these management theories. To better manage your business, just understand the basic fact that supports these theories.

Despite all the grumbling and the moaning, our work is powerfully important to all of us. More important than we’re usually willing to admit when we’re on the job.

Don’t make the mistake of interpreting a casual attitude as indifference to work. Your employees want to care about their job just as much as you care about yours. Give them the opportunity to answer the question, “What do you do?”, with pride and indifference will turn into excellence.

That’s what “Semper Fidelis” is all about. Nobody complains more than a Marine. To hear them tell it, it’s all the worst–the food, the mission, the equipment, the pay. But just ask a Marine “What do you do?” More often that not, you’ll be answered with pride “I’m a Marine”.

Time after time, studies have indicated that employees holding the most difficult jobs in the most arduous circumstances have the highest morale. There are few more difficult jobs than being part of a utility company’s emergency repair crew or being the hammerman in the forge shop. Yet people holding these jobs put forth great effort and take great pride in what they’re doing. Why? Because the feeling of doing something important makes the work meaningful.

Give your employees the opportunity to be proud of what they do and they’ll do it better. Show them that even the smallest task that they perform is important.

You’ll still hear the talk, “I can’t wait for the day to end” and “I need a vacation”. But remember, when they’re on that vacation and somebody asks, “What do you do?”, they’ll respond with pride that they work for your company! You can’t give another human being a greater gift than the opportunity to take pride in what he does and the chance to achieve self- respect from a job well done.

Look forward to the end of the day, the weekend and your vacation, but don’t look forward to retirement. Don’t retire! Work! You can retire from a job, but don’t retire from work. Work gives meaning to our lives. Work for a charitable organization that can desperately use your skills. We all have something to contribute. Whether for one hour or forty, in making that contribution, we give meaning to our lives.

Start the business that you always wanted. It’s never too late. Always have an answer for the question, “What do you do?”.

Make work meaningful for yourself and your employees. Because it’s your business, let people answer the question, “What do you do?”, with pride.

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