Category Archives: Morale

Making a Difference Through our Work

Meaningfulness increases significantly with density and diversity of sources of meaning; the relationship between density and meaningfulness is largely mediated by diversity. Findings indicate that commitment to numerous, diverse, and, especially, self-transcendent sources of meaning enhances the probability of living a meaningful life’ (Schnell, 2011).

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading two books.  The first one, Eight Lives Down is about British bomb disposal expert, Chris Hunter.  The book takes the reader through four months of his work in Iraq mainly in the war torn city of Basra, where he and his team braved attacks to go about the work of bomb disposal.

The second book, On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin 1986-2012 is a collection of the author’s reports from war zones.  Colvin, an extraordinary writer and an incredibly brave woman was killed in Syria last year.

What do these two books have in common and what do they have to do with HR?

Both books are, of course, nonfiction and although Marie wrote about conflict in other places, many of her accounts are from the Middle East.  Chris’s story is centered in Iraq.  As a resident of the Middle East, I want to know what is going on in the nearby countries and both books were not only great reads, but very eye opening.

Chris Hunter and Marie Colvin expressed an incredible dedication to their work, but beyond that, they felt their work was vital.  Chris was intent on saving lives and Marie was fixated on getting the story out.

I think most of us want to do work that is important; we want to make a difference, to build a better world through education, managing product quality, leadership, research, service – whatever we do in our jobs .   We are not content to have a job that just brings in the pay.

As HR professionals, I think it is important to remember that our colleagues and employees have a desire to do their best, to make a difference, to contribute no matter what their work.

Most of us will never be asked take the risks that these authors took, or save lives on an almost daily basis, but we will make a difference – often more than we know.

In 2009, John Varney, Chief executive at the Centre for Management Creativity, in Settle, in the United Kingdom wrote, Leadership as Meaning –Making.  He makes the case that the role of a leader is to ensure that people’s work is meaningful.  As he sees it, meaningful work negates the need for traditional supervision.  The leadership role becomes one of championing employees to overcome challenges so they can find fulfillment in their work.  People are motivated and energized by the idea of making a difference.   Recruiting and retention are easier because applicants are attracted to companies where they can make a difference.

Fortunately, there has been a lot of research on what gives meaning to people’s lives.   I am somewhat familiar with the work of Tatjana Schnell, a professor and research psychologist at Innsbruck University in Austria.  Schnell has developed what she calls ‘domains and sources of meaning’.  Schnell identifies several sources of meaning, including: challenge, freedom, knowledge, achievement, tradition, community, fun, care and attentiveness.    She also talks about the importance ‘taking responsibility for affairs beyond one’s immediate concern’. 

According to Marano (2004), when workers know their work makes a difference, productivity rises and so does job satisfaction.

How can we build an organization that makes people’s work meaningful?  It seems to me that it goes right back to the vision and mission– if employees understand see them as meaningful and understand their contribution to achieving them, this is a good start.  In his article, Marano talks about research that shows the employees who can see the client’s satisfaction with the product are more motivated.

As I finish this off, I am reminded of a cleaner who worked at SFU when I was a student there, he had all kinds of signs fastened to his cleaning cart and he was always whistling or singing as he went about his work, cleaning the outside concourse.  At the time, it didn’t strike me as important, but now I can see that he was making his job meaningful.  He was happy in his work and he made a difference.  That concourse was clean and even on days when the burden of the world was on my shoulders (studying seemed like hard work, indeed) he brought a smile to my face.


Colvin, M.  (2012).  On the Front Line.  Harper Collins

Hunter, C. (2010) Eight Lives Down.   Transworld

Marano, H. (2004.) Making a Difference at Work.  Psychology Today

Schnell, T. (2011).  Individual differences in meaning-making: Considering the variety of sources of meaning, their density and diversity. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(5), 667-673. doi:10.1016/

Varney, J. (2009). Leadership as meaning-making. Human Resource Management International Digest, 17(5), 3-5. doi:10.1108/09670730910974251

Varney, J.  Sustainable Leadership Makes Sense

Morale – Small Steps to Success

In any workplace, morale can do with a boost and my workplace is no different.   I teach in a college in the UAE, actually two colleges that are side by side, one for men and one for women.

I have always wanted to work in an environment where morale is high, one where respect is shown to colleagues and students alike, but I’ve learned that that environment has to be created – and I, like everyone else am responsible for its creation.  I am not always good at this; I think my way is the right way.  It has taken me a lot of time, training and reflection to learn to ask others what they want, to find out what is important to them and to try to figure out how to help them  get what they want, rather than discount it because it is different from what I want.   I am not there yet, I am waking up, I am more aware and as a child of the ‘60’s, I see that as the first step.

How does one begin to boost morale?  I’ll don de Bono’s yellow hat, as I am prone to do, and begin to think of what we do well.   What can we focus on that is positive, that draws us together?  How can we build a civil society in our little corner of the world?

My first vision is a bulletin board with accomplishments, photos, websites we have found helpful with a header that proclaims some euphemistically positive quote – be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi).  That one has been popular for a while – or something equally inspiring.

I think of this, because I believe that sometimes, a silent assertion is the place to start.  A space where people can share the good things that are happening or what is working for them in their work.   This enables us to make a strong statement without engaging in a discussion of what’s wrong.  It focuses our attention away from any problems as those of us who are Appreciative Inquiry practitioners are wont to do.

The next step is talking to colleagues, asking what is working – where are the successes?

Gene Klann in From Building Your Team’s Morale, Pride and Spirit (2007) says that ‘… social needs generally have two components:  the desire to be validated by others and the desire to be part of something that is greater than oneself.’ 

One way to validate people is to help them achieve their goals.  I wonder if I choose one or two colleagues to work with.  These might not be people I have worked with before, but they might be people I admire or am curious about.  If I work with them to help them achieve what they want, encourage them to pursue their ideas and use my strengths to assist them, perhaps this will make a difference.   This may seem like a small step, but I think it is a step in the right direction.  It will give me a focus and give them a greater chance of success.   While we are working toward success,  I know that the complaints will drop away.  We will be engaged and busy – two attributes of happy people.

James Autry, in his book, The servant leader: how to build a creative team, develop great morale, and improve bottom-line performance (2001) talks about the importance of working in a comfortable environment.   We work in cubicles and I’m amazed at how my colleagues have decorated them.  They have photos of children, pets, vacations, art prints, printouts of PowerPoint slides with information they have found enlightening, schedules are displayed so colleagues know where and when one can be reached.  Candies and fruit are set out on filing cabinets for everyone to indulge.

In their book, The great workplace: how to build it, how to keep it, and why it matters, (2011), Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin discuss the importance of pride in one’s work.   On days when we can’t see the forest for the trees, it is helpful to seek out graduates in the community to see how well they are doing, how they are contributing and making a difference and to remember the role we played in their development.     Our work matters to the world, something Burchell and Robin say instills pride in employees.

Another way to increase morale is to recognize the uniqueness of every employee.  Our college has faculty from around the world, many of whom have worked in several countries.  They bring a wealth of experience to their jobs and a myriad of stories about places they have worked or travelled.  Anywhere I want to travel, I have a ready source of information.  From Johannesburg, to St Petersburg, from Oslo to Singapore, from Madrid to Buenos Aires, my colleagues can share the highlights.   On board we have mountain climbers, world class runners, artists, videographers, researchers, drama coaches, upholsterers, and yogis– you name it, we have an expert.

Because we are a small college, we are a tight community; we see one another on the weekends, run into each other at the grocery store, in the local Starbucks or Nero’s, while exercising or at the camel races.  We have moved beyond the one dimensional role of colleagues to friends and confidants.

I think each of us is responsible for morale.  Although each of us is a small cog in the wheel, if we use our time to make a difference, this will inspire others and morale will improve.  Please let me know what you think…