Finding The Meaning In Life — With And Without Technology
Where are you on the work-happiness scale from 1 to 10? Do you find meaning in your work? Are in feeling less than needed in a worthless job? You are not alone. According to World Economic Forum, “In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no ‘meaning and significance,’ and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll of 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job.”
What is a hardworking, career-motivated individual with an eye for growth to do?
Stepping back a moment, let’s look at the root cause of the current state of emotional discord with work environments. First, innovation and technological progress have brought us to our knees with fear, uncertainty and doubt in regard to robots and AI taking over our jobs (or worse). What’s not to fear about Elon Musk’s quote on how AI is a greater risk than North Korea?
This is not a new feeling. The technological advancements made during the Industrial Revolution had a profound effect on the job market, particularly those in the agricultural sector. As Tyler Cowen of Bloomberg notes, “The shift out of agricultural jobs brought significant problems. This time probably won’t be different with automation, and that’s exactly why we should be concerned.”
In some ways, many people have become paralyzed reading about how AI, robotics, machine learning, autonomous vehicles and drones will render us useless as working humans. No one is immune (maybe you think you are, and if that’s the case, then I’d like to hear from you). Accountants, tax advisers, researchers, bloggers, movie stars and corporate roles at every level could begin to feel the effects as technology begins to design itself autonomously.
But it’s not just the potential of losing one’s job to a robot that might be preventing workings from finding meaning in their work. A 2017 HBR article noted, “The painful result of widespread misuse of company values, according to one major study, is that only 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day, and only 27% ‘believe in’ their organization’s values.” With all the technology enabling companies to pulse and survey for employee engagement, I have to pose the question: Are we asking the wrong questions?
Consider what does make people feel worthwhile, such as giving and doing something for others that could potentially impact their lives or an entire community. When we give — either money or hands-on help — we feel it’s going toward something good and meaningful. In fact, according to a Timearticle, “Moreover, there is a positive association between helping others and life expectancy, perhaps because helping others reduces stress.” Values-based efforts send many people to their happy place.
So if we are unhappy working in jobs we feel are meaningless, in a world we feel may soon not need our talents at work because robots and AI will do these jobs better than humans, is being altruistic really the only way we will be happy? Technology can help companies improve workplace happiness and productivity and bring meaning back to work. Here are a couple of ways technology may help improve workplace morale.
A 2016 Quartz article shares an example of how Bank of America used wearables on 90 of its top call center employees to see if the importance of team breaks provided unexpected benefits. “Based on their research, Bank of America made a few adjustments to their culture policies and reported a 10% improvement in productivity.” The article also points to how many companies are starting to use wearables, engagement survey platforms and other technologies to assess people’s moods and wellness.
Manufacturing company John Deere uses surveys and other tools. It created an employee happiness metric and determined that more frequent checks with teams help the company move more quickly, stay competitive, and keep pace with its employees’ motivations and their happiness, which in turn converts into a more innovative environment and very happy customers.
There will be no stopping the technology innovation rocketship. The exponential pace of change is moving faster than many people can comprehend.
I just got back from hiking the Camino de Santiago, where I met so many great people and talked about life, experiences, purpose, family and not a word of technology (and that has practically been my entire life). It felt so empowering and wonderful to put it all down, connect with people face to face and have actual conversations about the beautiful things in life! We need to be able to coexist with technology and still find meaning in our lives.