#BusinessWise: Bringing Meaning To Work

This week, we were lucky enough to attend The School of Life’s Business Wise Symposium, where philosopher Alain De Botton spoke on the psychology of business.

Speaking particularly how we find meaning in work, de Botton emphasised how research suggests that, as human, our primary purpose is to contribute to the wellbeing of others. How we contribute to the wellbeing of others can be in an infinite number of ways: by creating art, delivering a service, or being a heart surgeon, but regardless of the ‘how’, the ‘why’ is what brings us satisfaction at work (and in life!). 

When it comes to the workplace, our modern environment isn’t particularly set up for conveying meaning. We’ve set up our businesses so that tasks are split into small pieces, to make them more efficient. Batch processing means that people end up doing small segments of the larger role, meaning employees are only seeing a small part of the picture – and this means we “lose the thread” of any meaning we are trying to create. There are more participants in the workplace, and projects are usually planned over long periods of time, which makes it really difficult for us to follow the narrative, and find meaning. 

De Botton’s advice was to make our businesses (even if we work in super large ones) “feel like a cake shop”. In a cake shop, you make cakes, put them on the display, receive money from customers, and close up shop at the end of the day with a till full of payment for a job well done. The meaning is obvious (delivering delicious sweet treats), and the timeframe is short, which makes it very easy for all the participants to see where they fit and to understand the part they play in the story. Our challenge as business owners is to tell our stories in ways that demonstrate our meaning, both to our customers and to our employees

Claire Deane