My maternal grandfather often told the advice of his father (a second generation business owner of a lumberyard on the banks of the Erie Canal): “you should have a job where you whistle on your way to work and whistle on your way home.” (I believe this was even before the dwarves in Snow White sang something similar).

The type of work we do and how it makes us “feel” is an important reward for employees, and one that greatly impacts engagement with your job.

There are several elements that impact our perceptions of our work and a sense of satisfaction (which impacts engagement):

  • Achievement: A sense of achievement is the #1 factor for positive job attitude. Do I feel that I have accomplished something at the end of a week?
  • Meaning or Purpose: Does the work I do make a difference to the organization or to others? (See story below).
  • Challenge: Does this job use my talents and abilities, are my assignments challenging without being overwhelming?
  • Variety: Is there enough variety of the work to keep me from being bored? (People have different standards for what is too repetitive or monotonous so a job fit match is critical here).
  • Minimal frustration: Several “hassles” are key factors that impact retention. Employees expect the necessary tools and resources to do their job and a reliable workgroup, or they find a new job with fewer constraints on their achievement.

What can you do to add to the sense of achievement and purpose for your staff and co-workers, and to minimize their frustration? 

Story of Purpose (3 laborers):

There once was a traveler who journeyed all over the globe in search of wisdom and enlightenment. In the midst of one village, he came upon three laborers.

He approached the nearest laborer and asked, “Excuse me; may I ask what’s going on here?” The first laborer replied, “Can’t you see? I’m busting rocks. It’s unpleasant dirty work but it’s a job.”

The traveler approached a second laborer and asked the same question. The second laborer replied, “Can’t you see? I’m earning a living to support my family.”

The traveler then approached a third laborer and posed the question a third time. With a broad smile and a gleam in his eye, the third laborer replied with great pride: “Can’t you see? We’re building a cathedral.”

Clearly the last laborer was engaged in his work. It became meaningful to him because he had a larger purpose – the cathedral.

PS Grandpa decided that he would not be whistling on his way to the family lumberyard, so he became a pioneering heart and lung surgeon. He passed this advice down to his eight children, six who became business owners like their grandfather.

Image courtesy of Robert Cochrane at