“Work itself is but what you deem of it.” Marcus Aurelius
I’ve just finished reading an article from the Guardian last week on people still working in their later years, including a pub landlady in her 90’s and I feel so inspired.
Without wanting to spoil the article (trust me it’s a great read), I am seeing some patterns here and these are the thoughts I’d like to share.
- It’s Never too Late to find Meaning in your Work
All of the people cited in the article had a sense of meaning in their work and couldn’t imagine retirement, seeing it as sitting at home or playing golf all day. Though I haven’t done the research, I suspect that those who decline rapidly after retirement may have lost that sense of meaning and not replaced it or didn’t have it in their work to start with. One of the people interviewed shared that those he saw who couldn’t wait to retire were unhappy in their jobs and had a false sense of expectation on their 65th Birthday and beyond.
Much research has been done on happiness and meaning at work by Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North California. She and her team discovered that whilst people reported high levels of happiness at work, fewer reported high levels of meaningfulness yet this is where sustainable improvement and success can be found for productivity, engagement and performance. Employees with meaning report 1.7 times greater job satisfaction and 1.4 times more engagement than those without a sense of meaning.
It doesn’t necessarily mean having to change jobs; as leaders we can find ways to make existing work more meaningful for others.
- Create a strong sense of belonging and team vision – help people to realise the impact of their work on others. Hospital cleaners who rated high on a scale of meaning reported being part of the team that heals – help people to see where they fit into the vision
- Find ways to give – work from Adam Grant of the Wharton Business School in his book ‘Give and Take’ talks about takers, matchers and givers in business where the givers are the ones with the greatest sense of job satisfaction. I worked for 8 years in an IT related company where we were blessed with Anita, our office angel. It wasn’t the way she did order processing that contributed to our success, it was how she cared, listened, remembered everyone’s birthday and special anniversaries, baked cakes and gave, gave, gave, ad infinitum
- Make the company vision about them not us – ‘them’ being the customers, employees and stakeholders. Great examples of companies that have a spirit of caring and giving include Zappos, Patagonia, Stryker and Four Seasons Hotels
- Create a culture of caring – the Gallup organisation surveyed over 1 million employees and 25 thousand managers over a period of 25 years to come up the Q12 – a set of 12 questions that, if your employees can answer ‘Strongly Agree’, means that you have a highly engaged workplace. Question 5 of the Q12 is “Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?” – people don’t come to work for money alone, they come to work for meaning and connection
You can read the Fast Company article here
- Keep your Brain Active
We now know, thanks to Norman Doidge, author of ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’, that our brains never stop evolving, that they are ‘plastic’ and we certainly can teach an old dog new tricks! Though it’s possible, it’s not always easy as, in our later years, it can take longer for new neural pathways to form and ‘wire’ together.
Doing crosswords and sudoku for example are fine if you are new to them but the brain quickly forms a habit with this learning and stops forming new neural connections. Ways to keep your brain active include:-
- Learning a new language – if you do this with a group of other people it also facilitates social connection with is another strong contributor to meaning and longevity in life
- Go back to school – never stop studying and if you’ve never studied – it’s never too late to start!
- Try brain-based exercises designed for training specific areas of the brain. ‘My Brain Solutions’ created by Doctor Evian Gordon is designed specifically for this – you can access the site here
- Stay Socially Connected
We are social tribes in nature, our brains are programmed from evolution to be ‘in the tribe’ – if we were cast out we didn’t survive. Even the strongest of introverts finds energy in social connection either inside or outside of work.
Question 10 in the Gallup Q12 is “Do I have a best friend at work?” – how can we facilitate social connection in the workplace? One company, I heard last week, is installing more water coolers where, of course, the best conversations take place!
- Don’t cancel the office BBQ if budgets are running tight – in the same company where Anita the office angel worked, our social life became an extension of our work life. This was in the late 80’s and I am still connected with these colleagues today, in fact they made up the majority of our wedding guests back in 2009
- Check in with everyone at the team meeting – allow time at the beginning for sharing of personal experiences, celebrate the good ones and show empathy for the challenging ones
- Ensure that buddying systems are in place for new hires, thy don’t have to be in the same or similar role, match buddies based on their attitude and the personality of the new hire
I have heard far too many stories of people who couldn’t wait to retire then left this earth within months of doing so. It’s time to change that and each and every one of us can make a difference in this area, especially the leaders.
You can read the Guardian article here