Today’s show is Establishing Meaning and Purpose. Listen to the show on iTunes and Stitcher.

Don: [00:00:00] There are more opportunities for employees than they’ve ever seen. And, if they’re in a job where there is no emotional velcro, the term we use for are they connected to their job in a way other than just a paycheck. If there is no emotional velcro between the employee and the company, why wouldn’t they quit and look for something better?

Don: [00:00:22] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”

Don: [00:00:30] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated.

Don: [00:00:44] Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive. Each week my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.

Kelly: [00:01:09] Welcome. I’m your host, Kelly Burns, Vice President of Client Experiences at E3 Solutions. As always we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO, Don Rheem.

Kelly: [00:01:26] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.

Don: [00:01:29] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.

Kelly: [00:01:31] As we heard at the top of today’s episode this week’s focus is on establishing meaning and purpose in the workplace.

Kelly: [00:01:37] Research shows that the era of labor abundance is over. In February the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released data that revealed a record high 7.3 million job openings as of last December.

Kelly: [00:01:51] An astounding 3.58 million Americans quit their jobs, which puts turnover rates at a 17-year high. Don, why are so many people quitting their jobs?

Don: [00:02:01] Well one reason, Kelly, is because there are more opportunities then they’ve seen in their lifetime. Most of our listeners probably know we have the lowest unemployment rate since the Vietnam War. But not only is the employment rate low but the economy is continuing to grow which is putting this increasing pressure. But what it means is there are more opportunities for employees than they’ve ever seen and if they’re in a job where there is no emotional velcro the term we use for are they connected to their job in a way other than just a paycheck. If there is no emotional velcro between the employee and the company, why wouldn’t they quit and look for something better?

Kelly: [00:02:36] So what does an emotional velcro look like and how do leaders employ that to help stop essentially the hemorrhaging of their employees that are willing to walk away to go to another job at the drop of a hat?

Don: [00:02:48] Anybody that’s listened to our podcast knows we focus on homosapiens as social animals, herd animals. We’re hardwired to be in a group. We are hardwired to connect with others. And that part of the research that we’re involved with it E3 Solutions is, how does that play out in the workplace?

Don: [00:03:06] The scientific approach or label is adult attachment in the workplace. Where do adults literally attach and connect to something at work on something other than just pay?

Don: [00:03:15] And, there’s four general areas. They connect to the job, job title, what it is, who I am as a worker. They connect with their team. They come to work wanting to do things for their team members, with their team members. They connect with a leader, someone they want to follow. But then they also connect with typically mission and vision of a company which relates to meaning and purpose.

Don: [00:03:38] If employees aren’t connecting with one of those four areas at work, there is nothing holding them there. There is no there’s no anchor. They think that job is better. They hear about their friends telling them about hey, my company we do this we do that it’s great. I look forward to coming to work and they say, wow, I’ve never looked forward to coming to work. I want to go somewhere where I do.

Don: [00:04:00] So people are quitting their jobs because they’re unhappy and now there’s opportunity. We know they’ve always been unhappy. The number of employees reporting to be disengaged is about 70 percent in the United States and North America. So lots of unhappy employees now comes up against lots of opportunity. That’s why we hit a new record of employees quitting in one month 3.58 million Americans quit.

Kelly: [00:04:28] So you listed four key areas in which an employee could find meaning and purpose in their work. You could find it in your job, in your colleagues and community there, with your leader and with the organization.

Kelly: [00:04:43] Of those, three of them I think a leader could have significant control over an impact on the job, building connections among the team members and building rapport and relationship with the leader themselves.

Kelly: [00:04:57] The fourth piece, the one that connects the employee at a higher altitude to the mission and vision of the organization, may be a little bit harder for say a middle manager to control. But that, I think, is a key area where we can create really strong emotional velcro that helps stop people from leaving.

Kelly: [00:05:16] So how organization-wide can leaders from the top down create that emotional velcro, at the organizational level?

Don: [00:05:25] Well, I think a great place to start, is around what does the organization do, what are we here for? It might be our product or service but not just what the product or service is but what does it create?

Don: [00:05:36] What is the ripple effect of what we do in our market? We’ve told the story about a might just laying brick or on a building a church? We’ve told a story about the organization that realized that there are maintenance workers were the only people who are regularly walking around the whole facility so they put them on the safety team. These are all examples of that.

Don: [00:05:57] There’s another example. Told me about a company in Irvine, California that makes really small parts, components for heart valves. And, these employees are sitting at a workstation looking through a microscope, putting together assembling very small parts, very tedious, boring routine work.

Don: [00:06:18] Well, once a year the leaders of that organization bring in patients that have that part in them. Save their life. And these patients come in and they talk to the employees about what it meant. They’ll talk about, their now alive to go to their granddaughter’s high school graduation. All of these things that they’ve been able to do. Work with their family get more things done in their life. And when those patients come in and see these employees, the patients cry, weep. These are the people that saved my life. And at the same time, the employees are crying. Oh my gosh, all this work that I do staring this tedious thing and this is my outcome. That person at the front of the room is alive today because of what I did. That’s a way of finding meaning and purpose in what you do.

Don: [00:07:07] And, one of the opportunities I think for leaders and managers at every level, is to find that narrative. What is that high altitude story about what we do and why it’s important in our world?

Don: [00:07:19] This is especially important for the youngest generations of workers coming in Millennials and Gen Z, who are much more focused on finding meaning and purpose in their life. And they want to find it in their work.

Don: [00:07:33] So if you’re very focused on finding meaning and purpose why am I here what’s my role on this planet? I can remember my two daughters asking me that, why am I here? What’s the point? And they had to find that narrative in their life. And one found it through art and the other found it through service through working in a foundation. And they have meaning and purpose and that’s it’s a very strong pull.

Don: [00:07:54] So if leaders can develop that narrative of what it is we do that has this larger meaning in our community and our country for the world. That’s going to resonate with these employees and by the way, it also resonates with Gen X and Boomers. It’s just that they’re not quite used to it it wasn’t a normal part of the fabric of why they came to work. They came to work for job security but now that virtually everyone has job security. Now what is the other reason why I’m going and doing this work and collecting this paycheck because I could get a paycheck anywhere. Why do I want to get it from you?

Kelly: [00:08:30] That’s the most important question I think is we think about how to stop such high turnover rates in our organizations, which can be debilitating. The cost and time expense of finding recruiting, talented employees is extreme in 2019 and helping organizations establish meaning and purpose so that their employees create this emotional velcro want to stay, show up every day, give it their best that’s what’s going to set these companies apart.

Kelly: [00:08:58] But it takes a lot of intentionality on the part of senior leaders, CEOs to create that narrative. So you mentioned this heart valve organization and that’s a natural outcome of meaning and purpose is to bring in those heart patients. What about organizations that don’t have such a strong connection to in this case saving somebody’s life?

Don: [00:09:23] Well let me give an example Kelly. One of our clients is a construction company that primarily builds roads and they build a lot of them. And so you might say well you’ve got someone out on an on an asphalt paving machine standing on this thing they’re laying asphalt by the mile and into the horizon.

Don: [00:09:41] What’s the meaning and purpose there? And they talk about it. They’re creating safer roads that allow people to get where they need to go more safely. They’re reducing the accident rate at the highest level it’s about creating a higher quality of life and safety but there’s a smaller altitude benefit as well. When they build good roads cars last longer. They don’t go through tires as quickly. They’re not breaking their shocks on a bad bumpy road. So it’s even just to the cost of driving. And for many families, the cost of their vehicle and transportation is one of their highest expenses.

Kelly: [00:10:14] There’s also an environmental sustainability factor there’s a lot of really valuable ways you can tie meaning and purpose to somebody standing in the hot sun helping lay asphalt all day long.

Don: [00:10:25] These guys are hard work. I got to tell you and the ones that do this out in the out in the West in Colorado and Arizona, it’s hard work.

Kelly: [00:10:35] Right.

Don: [00:10:35] But to your point it’s really up to the manager to help create that narrative. It certainly should come from the leaders. The leaders should be creating the script if you will, that managers can then cascade down. And so this is something leaders need to focus on.

Don: [00:10:52] Ten years ago all you had to do was provide a you know great benefits and a steady job and it would have been enough. But we’re at a point now and we’ve talked about this in previous podcasts. This labor issue isn’t going to go away.

Don: [00:11:05] That birth rate in the United States has plummeted to 1.7 seven percent. We’re not even replacing the people exiting. So we need to make every effort to retain the people that we already have. And this issue of creating helping employees find meaning and purpose these hooks and loops of the emotional velcro that keeps them in work is absolutely essential. And the other part of this it’s so important for leaders. It’s free. It doesn’t cost them anything. It’s not a perk. It’s not something they have to invest in. To use your term, they have to be more intentional about doing this. And they need to discover what discover that narrative, test it with the senior leaders and then test it with managers and then keep developing it.

Don: [00:11:46] Sometimes we have a few clients where they have found those nuggets from customers. And that’s a great place to start.

Kelly: [00:11:55] So back to the concept where there’s four different ways an employee could attach their job, their co-workers, the leader and organization.

Kelly: [00:12:03] The first three, the job, their coworkers and their leader, that’s an area that the leader of that team can control. So how do we help with those three areas specifically, leaders to understand how to foster meaning and purpose in the job somebody is doing, in the team that they’re doing it in, with the leader they’re doing it with?

Kelly: [00:12:22] Meaning and purpose isn’t going to connect to the same way to one individual on a team as another individual on the team. So what’s the role of the leader of that team in helping foster meaning and purpose at an individual level?

Don: [00:12:35] The leader, the manager, the supervisor, the team leader should be listening for insights from the employees. If for example, you see an employee who is pretty happy or excited that day about something that happened, that manager should ask what’s going on? What are you excited about?

Don: [00:12:52] And, one employee to your point will say, I just I didn’t think I could do this and I’m just so excited that I was able to get this done and master this. So, it’s about them in their own capacity. Another employee sitting next to them could say, I’m just it was so great to see how the team came together. I just love the way the team pulls together and we get things done. On another might say, I really wanted to do this for our leader. This is really important and she said she this is really important for us, and I just wanted to make sure we got it done for her.

Don: [00:13:24] So, completely different perspectives. These are different motivational triggers that are unique to the individual, and the manager should be listening for what those are. But I will tell you one general one that resonates I think with most people, that is the most generic motivator, is around meaning and purpose. And what meaning and purpose people find.

Don: [00:13:46] So, tell that larger narrative. But I will say for some people at the lower altitude the meaning and purpose is their own personal development. What did I get done today? Se could think of this as an altitude issue as well. Low altitude. It’s about me and what I can get done. I’ve had I’ve hit new highs, learned something new. The highest altitude is, what are we doing for the country, the economy the environment?

Kelly: [00:14:12] Well, that’s great though, that helps a leader know that there isn’t just one way that they can go about helping establish emotional velcro and engagement in an organization.

Kelly: [00:14:20] If an individual doesn’t connect with or maybe the organization just does something pretty basic, it’s not something that saves lives or is about social responsibility or making the world a better place, but it’s just an important job to get done, whatever it is. The leader doesn’t have to attach necessarily to the mission and vision of the organization. They can work with the employees at these three other out really help establish the kind of engagement and retention that they need.

Don: [00:14:55] Let me give you another example. We’ve done work for a large engineering company with offices around the United States. And, when they used our employee engagement survey in the open-ended answer when we asked what, what could we be doing to help increase engagement and your connection with the firm?

Don: [00:15:12] Some of these engineers and they were tended to be the younger ones under 35. We’re saying, you know I went into engineering because I wanted to build great things that would last over time. And we do that here at this company, whether they’re designing clover leafs at a highway interchange, or large civic buildings, City Hall or a school. And, what they said was we design these, ee never go to visit them. Can’t we go on a field trip to see what we made? Now see they design it but they don’t build it.

Kelly: [00:15:44] Right.

Don: [00:15:44] And they wanted to come back and see that structure after it happened. That’s meaning that that resonates with the meaning and purpose about why they went into that career in the first place. And at first, the leaders of that organization one of the responses was well those aren’t billable hours. We can’t do that. But then they started to see the bigger picture. And they realized that they could. This this was something worthwhile doing it was it became a part of their retention strategy so that these engineers would stay.

Kelly: [00:16:12] As we close out today. Here’s some positive data from our own E3 Solutions engagement survey data. Survey respondents average a 3.45 out of 4.0, so really an excellent score.

Kelly: [00:16:23] When they’re asked to respond to the statement, I’m proud to work for this organization. This sense of pride is a key component to showing they have meaningĀ and purpose, wouldn’t you agree?

Don: [00:16:34] Oh absolutely. So it’s a really good point. I’m glad you brought it up with the 28 questions we ask, when we look at the global data, the answer to that question it’s almost always the highest for organizations we work for that that is it’s the highest scoring of the 28 questions. And what a great place to start. Meaning if employees are not proud of where they work. Then you’ve lost a huge part of that meaning and purpose and that this is why things like, you know hats and logo vests and things resonate with people because they’re proud to have that logo on them. Great source of meaning and purpose.

Kelly: [00:17:07] And often when we dig in to the open ended comments especially related to that sentiment we hear responses like it feels family here. And that sense of family connection that goes back to be one those four elements, right. The connection with your colleague. If it feels like family you’re going to have that purpose and meaning.

Kelly: [00:17:26] So we can establish these four different avenues for meaning and purpose with your job, with your colleagues, with your leader or with your organization.

Kelly: [00:17:37] The best way to maximize engagement and the emotional velcro would probably be to have as high of meaning purpose in each one of those four. Not in just one of the four. And that’s an important role a leader gets to play.

Don: [00:17:52] And it’s not either or on those four. It could be all four. It might be just one or two of them but all four of those are opportunities to create that emotional velcro that will hold an employee to an organization.

Kelly: [00:18:04] That’s it for today. I’m your host Kelly Burns. And thank you for listening. Tune in to next week’s episode on the importance of validation.

Kelly: [00:18:14] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out right now.

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Kelly: [00:18:46] Thank you for listening and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. See you next week!