How to Find/Make Meaningful Work (HRYP Series)

I’ve talked before about meaningful and purposeful work. We all want to know that our work is more than just another hour wasted like a rat in a wheel. But how can we find (or make) meaningful work for ourselves?

(Note: this is a post in the HRYP (HR Young Professional) series. If you know a young HR pro, please pass this along to them. I\’d appreciate it, and so will they!) :-)

My Thoughts

I think one of the biggest things that can set you apart as a professional is to have some enthusiasm and passion for what you do. You can know all the legal stuff, be able to coach a manager, and document an investigation flawlessly, but if you don’t have a positive attitude, people won’t want to be around you.

Smile, darn it! Act like you’re glad to be there. You might be surprised to see what happens if you do that often enough. And if you just hate your job and can’t stand it day in and day out, then please (please!) get out. You’re making the rest of us feel horrible too with your lack of friendliness. This topic of passion at work is something I feel… Um, passionate about.

From the top: six people I respect give their thoughts

Be credible, pay your dues with a smile, be willing to do what needs to be done to get the job done, and see beyond the job right in front of you to anticipate what can be done. There is a lot going on in an HR Department and as the manager and supervisor, I can’t be everywhere and can’t oversee everything. I need people working with me who I can count on to get the figure out how to get the job done, to solve problems when they arise and to work nice with others. So a new HR pro think they are just paying their dues – which they are – but there is much more to it than that. I am looking for how the work is being done and looking for performance that I can trust. Once I see that, the less routine, more challenging work will come your way until you cry uncle.

My military experience and education opened the door for me initially however developing solid relationships, being true to my word and always learning have been keys to my continued success. I have been fortunate to work for people who have provided me with the opportunities to learn, to contribute and, of course, to make mistakes. You don\’t have to join the Army to be successful in HR, but having an open mind, a willingness to understand issues from another\’s perspective and strong critical thinking skills will separate you from the masses.

Lisa Rosendahl-blog@lisarosendahl

  • Find a good mentor or manager at work that will put you on new projects or act as your “agent.”
  • Be aggressive in asking for new assignments, positions, projects
  • Use every advantage to get in front of people and speak

When I first started out in HR I was a lowly clerk that handled data entry and pushed paper all day. I knew I was destined for more. In less than 9 months I had been promoted to a recruiter. How did this happen? I made it a point to come in early and work a little late, I asked a lot of questions not only about HR work but about the business and products we were producing, and built relationships with the management/employees/and corporate HR employees.
I was lucky to be given a new manager who wanted to mentor me and when I did a good job he put me on tougher assignments. But my co-workers heard and noticed too. And, good or bad, they would suggest me for tasks.

At one point I was told I was going to present a supervisor training class over lunch. It was my first one ever and I was terrified. Not only of the public speaking but because I had no background on the topic- but that\’s another story. Needless to say I came off as stiff and boring, and people kept falling asleep during my presentation. Later, at the same company, I received a new manager who pushed me to continue speaking in front of people and gave me good advice – ditch the PowerPoint, use stories, and make it interactive. Not only did it make it more fun for me but it helped my audience remember the information better. Plus, I realized speaking well in front of a group is a powerful thing. People remembered me and came to me for advice and help.

One day I heard that the company was going to open 2 new facilities and I knew that one of the HR managers that I really wanted to work with was going to transfer there. I went to him and said “I want to help you set up the office. You know I\’ll do a good job for you.” Strangely it worked. But what surprised me more was that when I told my co-workers I got the transfer they weren\’t surprised – they said they all knew it was going to be me, that I was the best fit for that job.

My new manager was fantastic- a good mentor and friend. He pushed me to do supervisor training, get out into the community, get involved, and get to know people. And when an opportunity came up to travel to Maine to help out the facility there, he came to me first and asked me if I\’d be interested in going – Knowing I would be. But I also expressed my interest in going to his boss, the HR V.P. I ended up going for almost 2 months. They even offered me an HR Administrator position up there!

Stephanie Walsh-LinkedIn@salawren

Do not underestimate the power of paying your dues.

Once you\’ve established yourself as the dependable, go-to-person for your team, you\’ll be given more and more “other duties as assigned” that will enable you to learn more and contribute more. Remember, it\’s not about you, it\’s about the work of your department and ultimately the success of the organization. Look for ways to do new things that will allow you to contribute more while you\’re learning. But always pay attention to your job duties and do them flawlessly, cheerfully and dependably. You may be surprised how quickly your job duties will be redefined to include more impactful activities.

China Gorman-blog@chinagorman

Its the age old dilemma….I don’t have enough experience to get the job that will give me the experience that I need to get the job. We’ve all been there or are there now. Here are a couple of thoughts:

  1. Think about your job in a different way. If you are in a role that you are “paying your dues”, make sure that you fully understand the role and how it fits into your organization. Get above the tasks that you do and think high level questions such as “how does a what I do effect the business of my company” “is it an efficient process” “what are common questions/issues that arise within this role and how can we address those differently”. While you may be “paying your dues”, demonstrating creative thinking to your leadership team and being able to tie ideas or solutions back to improving the business of your company will make you stand out among your peers but will also provide that sense of meaningful work.
  2. Make sure that you are learning from your experiences. Some people have several years of experience but it is the same thing over and over. In other words, they have been working for 25 years but it as if they have 1-year of experience, 25-times. Don’t be that guy! Learn from what you are doing—even if it is not your dream job. Understand the good points, the frustrations experienced by the people doing it, how processes work (backwards and forwards) and how it fits into the overall strategy of your organization (I think I’ve said that already…get the point?). Prepare yourself for opportunities now or the opportunities in the future will be limited.

Rusty Brand-LinkedIn-2010 NASHRM Chapter President

Complete tasks quickly that you don’t find meaningful and devote time to projects that give you satisfaction and a feeling of purpose. I get a lot of satisfaction out of a small portion of my work duties, so I try to finish up what I can and spend my remaining time performing work that is meaningful to me and has long-term benefits for my employer.

Allen Robinson-blog@logicwriter

When it comes to this I have some generational issues here. While the perception may be that the new/younger folks get all of the less desirable work, such may in fact be the case. But if not for the new or younger people who is going to does the grunt work? While it may seem mundane and rudimentary nonetheless all of it is still essential. Were it not, the work would not be done. Completing I-9s may seem like it is not cool, but it is pretty damn important when it is all said and done. If they are not done properly with great deal of attention paid to detail this can expose the employer to a tremendous liability. So while the young HR pro needs to think through the matter and decide if it is really as bad a they think it is.

Now the flip side to this is that if the young HR pro feels that not only are they not being included in the cool stuff, but rather they are being EXCLUDED, i.e. someone is taking a positive action to ensure that they are NOT being given any chance to do any meaningful work; this becomes a different matter. If that is the case I think it is incumbent upon the young HR pro to have a conversation with the superior about the matter, as uncomfortable as that may be.

Somewhat relating Q2 to Q1, if you can’t find meaningful work in your job, maybe you can find it in some other areas outside of work. For example as a volunteer leader in a not-for-profit group, you might well find rewarding and fulfilling work.

Last comment about this matter, whatever you do DON’T GO NEGATIVE. If you turn sour, and start making negative comments to anyone about this, you will have fallen on your sword. There is more than enough negativity in the workplace already – don’t bring more!

Dave Ryan-LinkedIn@davethehrczar

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Do you have something to add? How do you find meaning in your work, and if you can’t do that, how can you create an environment where work can be meaningful and fulfilling? Are people who don’t find meaning in their work doomed to live a sad, sad life? :-)

4 thoughts on “How to Find/Make Meaningful Work (HRYP Series)

  1. Dave Ryan

    It is quite interesting to me that all of these pieces were written by folks on thier own and then submitted to Ben. In many instances there seems to be re-occuring themes, in each of the essays.

    Ben thanks for your work on this project, perhaps when this has run, you should solicit opions from young HR pros to see what they need from the old dogs to make thier jobs better

    AND take good care of those babies!

  2. working girl

    That is quite a line up of great advice from people who have been there. I would only add that there is always SOMEthing you can do to move forward. Sometimes others do block you, or you can’t find a mentor, or there just isn’t enough creative work to go around, or you’re so darn good at the boring stuff that it’s hard to break out… there are any number of things that can stand between you and what you want. So instead of focusing on those, focus on what you can do. Maybe you can’t wriggle out of the low level work so do it, too, but find a way to contribute to the stuff you care about on your own time. Take a class in an area of professional interest. Offer to help and keep offering – it’s like cold calling, a 1% success rate is trememdous! And my personal favorite, help someone else get what they want, maybe someone in a worse situation than you with fewer tools to navigate out.

  3. Ben Post author

    @Dave I will definitely do that. That sort of questioning is what gave me the idea for the series in the first place! :-)

    @WG That’s been my own method for finding peace in a job that offers little satisfaction. My evenings are spent working on this blog and reaching out to other people (like those interviewed here) for advice and help. I love what I do outside of my day job, and I’m looking forward to growing that as part of my life!

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