Wholeness, Meaning, and Change

Posted by on Dec 23, 2013 in New | 0 comments

“Meaning is a peculiarly individual and subjective thing. I wonder, if every worker pursued their own notion of meaning, how would that affect the corporate world?”

That question was posed a few years ago by my online friend and EQ expert extraordinnaire, the late Galba Bright. 

It’s a question that is related to the success–-or failure–-of every change initiative. Whether it’s about a new benefits package, introducing new technology, or figuring out where the entire family will go on vacation, meaning is the core issue.


WholenessBecause when we retain what is meaningful, we have a sense of wholeness. When we have a sense of wholeness, we can–-by definition–-bring our whole self to the game. Conversely, if meaning is subverted in some way, so are we. Our enthusiasm and commitment diminish; only part of us is left, and it’s not the part that is ready to add value to the situation.

A Helpful Way to Think About Meaning, Worklife, and Change

Corporations are in business to earn a profit. Without that, there wouldn’t be jobs or money for employees. Heck, there wouldn’t be employees, products, or services. Without high-performing employees, there wouldn’t be highly profitable corporations.

Which means that both are giving and getting something out of the relationship. And that’s where I believe the frustration begins. The same people who would spend days, weeks, and months wining and dining a new love–-gazing longingly into the other’s eyes–-too often spend about 5 minutes sending out an email announcing a change that will impact work schedules, careers, income, and the well-being of families.

I’ve been involved in corporate life for more than 30 years. Most executives I know do acknowledge the personal difficulties inherent with change. But here’s where it gets icky: somehow, along the way, a particular defense mechanism has been allowed to serve as an acceptable “reason” for all kinds of behavior. And that is the phrase, “This is a business.”

When that is uttered, somehow everyone within earshot is supposed to nod knowingly, acknowledging that the business gods–wherever they are–deserve whatever sacrificial offering is required to keep them looking favorably upon that company’s shareholder value.

“This is a business.”

Knock it off, we all know that. In fact, that’s why we’re all here!

We’re all here for another reason

“Business” allows us to fulfill some deeper sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. For some, it’s the work itself. For others, it may offer the means to buy a first home and start a much longed-for family. For still others, the location of the workplace may have meaning if one needs to care for elderly or suffering family members. And, yes, there are many who are working simply to have enough money to retire. They’ve decided that they’ll delay certain kinds of satisfaction so that they don’t need to worry during their later years.

Many of us will be sitting around the Christmas dinner table with family and friends or celebrating holidays in other ways, but still having conversations about the year past and the year ahead. As you listen–or add your own hopes and dreams–be aware of the differences in purpose and meaning. 

They are all personal and all valid. 

What gives meaning to your work? If the conversation slows down, that may be a useful question to ask. You’ll learn quite a bit about each other.