Meaning at Work
By Nicholas Ind
Publisher Cappelen Damm, 2010
Ind’s earliest memory of work is a grainy image from his childhood - dressing smartly with a trendy flowery tie and going to work with his father who ran a photographic studio in central London.
He can still recall processing film in the darkroom, using the enlarger and an array of cameras – Exakta, Praktika, Hasselblad. Most of all his 12-year-old self learnt that “the act of making something oneself and of experiencing creativity is profoundly rewarding”.
The comparison with subsequent holiday jobs that had little freedom and plenty of drudge, alongside his love of film and philosophy, shape this latest book – a discussion about how we can improve the meaning we find at work.
Ind reminds us that when people join new employers they generally have high hopes of finding meaning and making a meaningful contribution. Over time though we become disillusioned because we are too focused on our own unrequited hopes and insensitive to the aspirations of others, then we begin the blame game.
One of the cores of Meaning at Work is to challenge the practice of blaming others and to offer some recipes for change. Ingredients from which we can pick and choose include understanding what gives us satisfaction and provides fulfilment, finding our personal balance between the competing needs for security and freedom, and how comfortable we are with routine versus change.
Can we define meaning
Meaning is complex and difficult to define; it’s fluid over time and intrinsically linked to the strength of our desire to make a mark on the world. As well it’s about community and our relationships with those we work with. Ind reminds us that organisational culture is created by all the individuals who make up the workforce; our choices determine how well we exert our influence, which we do thorough relationships.
There are some essentials for meaning at work to be possible, which Ind discusses before moving into the philosophical discussions. We need to be earning enough to pay the bills and feed our families; there needs to be a sense of community among employees; plus opportunities for creativity and innovation. We also need to be comfortable with the trade-off between security and freedom our organisation offers.
His first philosophical discussion is a discursive on freedom, happiness and fulfilment. For Ind these are about realising our potential, control over how we do things and our ability to manage ourselves. He recognises there must be some limits to individual freedom if our organisation is to have unity among its workers. But also that freedom to innovate and create leads to quality work and the emotional state of fulfilment.
Being open, staying open
In a subsequent discussion Ind champions being open and staying open to learning and growth in every encounter with other people. He says each of us should at least try and change the way we work for the better, rather than passively succumbing to the status quo. Our success will be down not to our capabilities but to our character. How sincere, trustworthy, courageous and open we are. How well we demonstrate integrity and cope with uncertainty, how well we negotiate the politics of our organisation.
His advice to managers and leaders is to embrace incremental change and find the balance between control and freedom so people are able to experience satisfaction in their work and relationships. He says listen to employees and role model how to embrace uncertainty and value difference.
Nicholas Ind comments on Meaning at Work in this RSA blog.