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Meaning Makes a Difference

Excerpt from Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

Why does work have such a bad reputation?  Or is it just my former line of work that has a bad reputation?

When you work in the restaurant business, you take a lot of flak for your job – particularly if you work in “fast food.”  Popular culture is full of unflattering references such as “burger flipper” and “minimum wage worker.” Despite the fact that one in ten Americans currently work in a restaurant, one-third of Americans find their first job in a restaurant, and 50% of Americans work in a restaurant at some point in their working lives – restaurant work is regarded with disdain.

This drives me crazy.  I know amazing people who work in the restaurant business.  They deserve respect and dignity for what they do for a living.  They feed people.  They develop leaders.  They help kids get through high school. They give people first and second chances for employment.  They serve people kindly.  They teach and counsel team members.  They create jobs.  They give generously in the community. They give the best of themselves to the people and the communities they serve.

Could we acknowledge and appreciate the purposeful, meaningful, valuable, and important work that restaurant people do?

Once I was visiting a top-performing restaurant manager in Chicago.  She was full of positive energy for her work, and I asked her, “What is it that you love about this job?” She smiled and said, “Cheryl, I have the best job ever.  I am a teacher, a counselor, a social worker, a mom, a minister, a finance advisor, and more.  You see in this position, I have the opportunity to impact the lives of young people just starting out.  I help them get their grades up so that they can go to college.  I teach them job skills so they can pay their bills.  I help them solve problems, when they don’t have friends or family to help.  I can’t imagine a more important job in this community.”   For this restaurant manager, work has meaning and purpose.  Because of her perspective, she is a top-performing restaurant manager.

Consider this thought:

It is the leader’s responsibility to bring purpose and meaning to the work of the organization.

Purpose and meaning are essential to creating a high-performance organization.  When a person believes their work matters, they contribute differently.  They arrive early and stay late.  They find creative solutions to problems.  They build their skills so they can add more value. They work collaboratively to ensure the success of the team.  They stay in the job longer.

Purpose and meaning at work raise the energy level, commitment, and performance of the team.

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