A Search For Meaning


Have you heard people say that, “This might be the first generation that will be less better off than previous generations in the history of the United States?”

The economic recession is over, but challenges remain.  Unemployment is still high and the rate does not include people who have given up looking for work.  Generation Y is graduating from high school and college with increased competition for fewer jobs, and with unemployed Gen Xers and BabyBoomers staying longer in the workforce, blocking many that do exist.

So is it true?  Is Generation Y the unfortunate group that’s destined to be less better off than that its predecessors?

A New Perspective

You may also have heard that Generation Y is a group that values having meaning in their lives.  And, since work is such a large part of life, the Y generation expects to have meaningful work as well.

Chip Conley in his discussion with Razor Suleman cites the search for meaning as especially high in Gen Y and that money as not being the main reason people leave their jobs.

Gen Y may be seeing work and life differently?  What if we set aside ecomonics for a moment, and view meaningful work as a priority?

Could it be that Gen Y is the first generation that values such a priority that they would leave a job without purpose even in these tough economic times?  And, if so, could this priority of purpose be a gift to us all? This might represent a generation that is truley better off than its predecessors?

Search for Meaning

We all are in search for purpose in our lives and work, but it is really great to see and hear that our latest generation puts such a priority on it.  We need to pay the bills and find employment that matches our capabilities and give us a meaningful challenge.  But, life and work change and our need for meaning seems to remain constant.

Organization’s Role

As leaders, managers and individual contributors we seek the purpose of what we do.  Employee engagement is a topic that many leaders, business owners, and human capital stakeholders strive for in work.  People know that if employees are engaged they have an emotional connection to their organization and create an environment of high performance.

Organizations on-board to align their companies mission, goals and values to new employees.  The hope in on-boarding is that the employees are assimilated into the culture.  Once on the job, employees should be asking themselves, “How does what I am doing align with the purpose of the organization?  And, does it match my idea of what is meaningful?”

Organizational leaders give speaches, create stategic plans, and reienforce the culture.  Managers carry out plans and communicate the mission down through the ranks.  Employees do the tasks and hopefully find a purpose in what they do.

If employee engagement is to be sustained, employees need to be reminded of the purpose of their work as often as possible.  Many organizations engage consultants and work with internal OD, training, performance improvement and human capital professionals to design and implement initiatives to improve employee engagement.    And, it has been proven that the immediate supervisor has more to do with an employee’s engagement than any other factor.

Modest Solution

One simple and time-tested solution is found in effective on-the-job training.  The first step in training employees is to explain the importance of the task to the employee. This is a great opportunity to describe the overall purpose of what the task or skill does for the work unit, department, the organization, the community and the individual employee.  If practiced, this reminder and alignment to the purpose of the task can be a powerful connection to why we do, what we do, and meaningful work.

Basic Learning Process

This basic learning process is effective with on-the-job training and is a best adult learning practice. Here is the Basic Learning Process:

1.  Understand why the skill or task is important.

2.  Discuss the specific behavior involved in the task/skills.

3.  Watch a demonstration of the task/skill.

4.  Practice skill.

5.  Receive constructive feedback.

6.  Identify opportunities to use the skill/tasks.

These steps produce powerful interaction with plenty of benefits including gaining valuable skills, establishing trust, aligning to organizational goals, as well as community and individual development.

Step One as a Link to Meaning

When a supervisor, fellow employee, or team member practices the first step of the learning process ( 1. Understand why the skill or task is important.) they have the opportunity to align the task/skill to the organization’s mission, goals and values and link to a larger world and larger purpose.  The whole process is a conversation.  It’s not a monologue, its a dialogue, an exchange of experiences and insights and personal values.  The conversation can be a time to reflect on the meaning of the work and the organization.  And, this conversation can held separately from a training session.


Let’s say you were going to discuss why it is important to learn and practice keeping your desk clean and picking-up after yourself.  It may really seem mundane and uneccessary to some, but could you link that cleaning practice to safety of the employee and others?  Or, could you link the behavior to the image of the organization’s brand, or the individual’s brand?

How It Helps You

The practice of explaining why a task is important is a practice that can help you see the links to a bigger picture and your own purpose in work and life.

Stopping to explain the importance of what we do is an opportunity to answer the question, “Why?” that all of us seek.  As Generation Y joins the workforce we have a responsibility to make this link to purpose.  It should be clear to all of us why we do what we do.  And, as we flex and change practice, we need to help each other understand the importance of what we do and how it relates to make a better world.