We’re pleased to share a unique perspective on management from Jesse Brisendine, our keynote at the 2023 Annual Conference. His expertise in employee engagement differs from our usual content yet provides universal insights. The strategies presented transcend any particular field or role. We hope you gain a new understanding about driving engagement from Jesse’s thoughtful analysis. Now, let’s explore how to make work more meaningful!

Cindy works in a small retail store. Up until recently she had considered her work to be meaningless. She worked there because “she had to.” After all there are “bills that need to be paid,” and “food that needs to be provided for the kids.”

It wasn’t the job she dreamed of nor was it a job she even liked much. She didn’t care for the hours and was constantly bothered by all the “rude” customers she had to interact with daily.

One day a customer walked into her store. Right out of the gate she assessed him as being “cranky & rude.” The tone in his questions was abrasive. He refused to make eye contact. Never once did he say thank you.

He moved through the store with timid purpose and finally found what he was looking for – a small plastic angel. It was all white and leaning on a heart.

He hurriedly paid and upon leaving, Cindy turned to her co-worker ready to vent and tell her all about what a jerk that customer was.

No sooner had she opened her mouth when the “jerk” came back in. This time he appeared more bothered than before. This time he needed a permanent marker. Cindy showed him where they were.

He immediately tore off the packaging and gave her the garbage, “as if it was my job to collect & dispose of his personal trash.”

Cindy was about to give him a piece of her mind and let him know how rude he was and how his crappy attitude was ruining her day. She opened her mouth to speak, then stopped herself.

She remembered a training she had recently attended where an emphasis had been placed on performing acts of kindness for others.  She thought to herself “the bigger the jerk the more love they need.”

With this thought she did something completely unplanned and different than she had ever done before, she paid for the rude man’s marker.

When he came up to the front, she looked him in the eye and said, “I think that whatever you need this marker for, is for something very special. I have taken care of the charge for you.”

The man was speechless. His hardened demeanor softened in front of her. Tears began to escape out of the corners of his eyes.

It wasn’t about the money. It was about gesture.

He said, “I just buried my sister. She needs something to…”

His voice cracked. He took a deep breath.

He held the angel up. “She deserves this.”

He slid the cap off the pen and carefully wrote his sister’s name in the center of the heart. He went on to explain that “it had to be permanent ink because it was going to be outside.”

After the man left, Cindy thought to herself that “there may not have been enough money for a headstone and the angel was going to be used to mark where his sister had been laid to rest.”

This story is a true story. Cindy (that’s not her real name) is a former client of mine. The magic of this exchange didn’t stop here. It changed Cindy too.

After her encounter with this man, she completely changed her perspective about work. She no longer chose to view herself as a store clerk, instead she embraced her new self-appointed role as the “head of humanity.” Her purpose was to see past her immediate judgements and find humanity in everyone who came in. Her mission was to get every customer to leave with a smile on their face.

When you talk to Cindy about her job now, she will tell you how much she “loves it!” What is especially meaningful to her are all the customers she gets to interact with daily. She enjoys speaking with them, hearing about their lives, and putting a smile on their faces.

What changed for Cindy?

The job didn’t change, or did it?

Cindy is still doing the same repetitious functions that most jobs require.

She is still working with the same coworkers and selling the same products to the same customers.

Her commute is still the same as are the hours she works.

Yet something had changed because Cindy had changed. The job she used to have to drag herself out of bed every morning to get ready for, is now the job that she wakes up, excitedly, before her alarm and rushes out of the door in anticipation of the day ahead.

In short Cindy found new meaning in her work. She allowed the experience with the customer & the angel to transform how she looked at herself and the work she does. She decided on a purpose (to put a smile on every customer’s face) which in turn allowed her to embrace the “same” job/work as something completely different altogether.

Cindy stumbled into a purpose with a little help from a customer.

Purpose, a deeper meaning, a greater level of fulfilment in the work we do is available to all of us. To experience it doesn’t require a customer interaction like Cindy had (although those can certainly help).

Here are three ways you can begin to make work more meaningful today:

1 – Form strong friendships. We show up and will go above and beyond for those we care about.  We look forward to spending time with people we feel connected to. As a leader you can help facilitate the formation of friendships. Consider hosting an office cornhole tournament with teammates chosen at random. Assign mentors to all new hires. Create a company social board where people who share interests outside of work can easily connect.

2 – Connect the staff with the customers they serve… allow them to see the bigger impact of the work they do. Let’s look at a receptionist at a car dealership as an example. They field phone calls, schedule appointments, file paperwork, coordinate between customers and the respective departments. Those are the “what’s” of their job – the “what they do.” Do they ever get to see the ripple of impact those what’s have in the lives of their customers?  As leaders you can help them bridge this gap. Highlight families who take their children safely to school every day because of the services they help facilitate. Showcase the car that protected the family in a crash – the same car they helped the customer acquire. Allow them to see that their role is much more than that of a receptionist – that they are the linchpin to customer safety and well-being.

3 – Ensure company and personnel values are aligned. Many organizations do nothing with their core values beyond writing them on the wall. This is to the detriment of the organization, and all involved. Creating a culture around values expression will ensure that those employed find their work to be more meaningful. Sponsor the little league team(s) that employees’ children play on. Organize community clean up days. Launch meal trains if someone is sick or they are out of work due to the loss of a loved one.

The average life expectancy in the USA is around 78 years. The first 18 of those are spoken for by primary education (tack on another 4-8 for higher educational pursuits). We will spend another 30+ of those years sleeping. Most of the remaining waking hours of our lives will, in large part, be invested into work.

There is a sacred exchange that happens during employment. The employee is committing to providing the organization with their most precious resource, their time. In exchange, the organization is pledging to provide the employee with the means to live their lives outside of work and to provide for their family.

Facilitating meaningfulness goes a step beyond this. It’s creating a culture/environment where people can decide to on & express a life purpose. Where people can be surrounded by those they care about. Where values are more than writing on the wall – they are ways of living.

Humans are always mulling over the question, “What does this mean.” Every day we will decide on an answer. Make the decision-making process an easy one. Focus on making work meaningful.

Jesse providing assistance in Haiti after the 2010 earthquakes