You hear the alarm go off and within seconds, you’re scrambling for your phone.
You open one eye just enough to press snooze and notice it’s still dark outside.
Your legs feel heavy and your headaches from the brutal sound of the alarm.
Not today, you think. I don’t want to go to work today. What’s the point?
Immediately you remember, it’s how you make a living. So, the decision’s non-negotiable. You have to go.
At least you can find comfort in knowing it’s Wednesday. By lunchtime today, you’ll be halfway through the workweek.
This scene isn’t uncommon. According to a Gallup study of 230,000 full-time and part-time workers in 142 countries, only 13% of people feel engaged and fulfilled by their jobs.
As a business founder and now leader of hundreds of employees, this thought is heart-breaking.
How did we get here?
It’s chilling to think your employees are having to drag themselves out of bed every morning, wishing they could stay home.
Not only because employees who derive a sense of purpose from their job are generally more productive, engaged, and loyal to the company. But because it’s a better way to live. People who live their purpose at work are happier, healthier, and more resilient.
So, how did we get to a situation where, for most, it’s all about the paycheck?
I like Barry Schwartz’s theory. He says the way we think about work is wrong.
We need to understand the difference between technology of things, and the technology of ideas. Because there’s something special about the latter.
If a company like Jotform created a technology that didn’t work, it would simply disappear for lack of customer demand.
In contrast, ideas about human beings can continue to exist for as long as people continue to believe in them. Even if they’re wrong.
If people believe that they’re true, they create ways of living and institutions that are consistent with these very false ideas. That’s how the industrial revolution created a factory system in which there was really nothing you could possibly get out of your day’s work than except for the pay at the end of the day.Barry Schwartz
The false idea was Adam Smith’s. He wrongly believed humans were naturally lazy. He thought people had to be incentivized with money to go to work.
And it was this wrong idea that led him to create an institution that made his false idea true.
The factory system he created rewarded workers in no other way. Just money. There was no career development, no collegiate company culture, and no opportunity to find passion in their work since the factory tasks were so monotonous.
As a consequence, his idea became true. Humans did become incentivized to work for money. Not because they’re inherently lazy. But because the institutions they worked in rewarded them only with pay. His false idea because real.
So, as leaders, if we want our employees to feel motivated to come to work every day, we need to change the ideas that shape our institutions.
If we design workplaces that permit people to find meaning in their work, we will be designing a human nature that values work.Barry Schwartz
So, what’s the new narrative?
Of course, there are days when I too feel tired and distracted. Perhaps something in my personal life requires my full attention, or I’ve been trying to solve a problem and not getting enough sleep.
But since I founded Jotform in 2006, not a day has gone by that I haven’t wanted to go to work.
Jotform is my company. It was my product idea. Without raising a dime in external funding, I grew the business into what it is today; a company that helps over 10 million users maximize their productivity.
The sense of fulfillment that comes with being an entrepreneur far outweighs the stress that comes with running a business.
And I want all employees could feel this sense of purpose that drives me to go to work every day. So, here’s how I set out to recreate this feeling for everyone at Jotform.
1. Help them understand why and how they’re helpful
The reason I strongly believed in Jotform’s success is because I knew it was a real solution to a real problem. I had experienced it first-hand.
I was as a programmer at a NY media company for five years before I quit to start Jotform. Our editors often came to me for custom web forms for questionnaires, surveys, polls and contests.
It was a tedious task, and I began to question whether I could automate the process for people who didn’t know HTML. That’s how the idea for Jotform began to take shape.
Six months after I quit my job, I released the first version of Jotform; confident it was a product people needed.
I was motivated because I understood how I was being helpful. And knowing I was helping others boosted my productivity and gave me a sense of meaning.
If I wanted every new Jotform hire to feel this way, I had to find a way to help them understand their impact. Both with our customers and within the company.
Inspired by Facebook and Zappos, I implemented the Jotform Bootcamp. During their first month at the company, employees handle at least 100 customer support requests.
It may seem tedious, but most new hires say this process proved to be invaluable. They get to know the product deeply and understand what they can do to help customers.
During this process, they’ll have to liaise with different teams to solve specific issues. So, they gain an appreciation for how the business operates; who does what, and where they fit.
Their contribution becomes easier to see.
2. Let them make a personal contribution
The difficulty many leaders face in “giving” employees a sense of purpose, is it requires eliciting an emotional response. Purpose needs to be felt.
By its very nature, it’s therefore unique to every single individual.
You can talk about the company’s vision to your heart’s content. And you should, it’s important as a leader to provide direction.
But if you want employees to feel motivated to go to work every day, you need to recognize their individuality. Make things unique.
At Jotform, we hold Demo Days every Friday. An opportunity for people to exhibit their latest work. And everyone, even the most reserved of employees, has a chance to be heard.
Not only do they get to show what they’re doing to make an impact. They also see that the rest of the company values their contribution.
It gives them a sense of ownership over their work. That’s their project; that’s why they come to work every day.
Plus, hearing about their peers’ work helps motivate those employees who are listening.
Adam Grant found that a leader talking to a group of employees about the impact of their work didn’t have much impact on their performance. The message resonated with listeners much more when the speaker was a peer, improving their performance by 400%.
Letting employees show off their progress not only heightens their own sense of purpose, it becomes contagious to their peers, who can piece together where they fit and how they contribute.
3. Leverage your history and be authentic
Initiatives designed to cultivate a collective sense of purpose can backfire if employees feel they’re disingenuous.
This is one of the benefits of Jotform having grown slowly. We weren’t an overnight success, our growth was gradual.
Building a team of over 300 employees from zero in 2006 means some of the people who worked shoulder-to-shoulder in the early years, myself included, are still at the company today.
When our first employee joined, we ate lunch together every day. We got to discover how we each prefer to work, the things that made us feel productive and gave us a sense of purpose.
We shared and developed our ideas. And as the team grew gradually, this collegiate culture continued. Our employees can feel it’s organic.
And, when we talk about Jotform’s culture of continuous improvement, employees know it’s not just talk, because we show them from day one. Every new hire is asked to release a product update on their first day.
We cultivate an environment that encourages ideas from everybody, and employees know they’re valued because they’re trusted to make decisions from the start.
Their sense of meaning comes from knowing they make a real impact.
It’s not easy to instill a sense of purpose in someone, that will excite them to come to work every day.
Every employee has their own life, their own priorities, their own beliefs. And every individual will derive meaning from different things. Plus, these things change in time for everyone.
As a leader, you can’t concern yourself with the intricacies of every hire’s emotions.
But if you focus on transparency, helping them understand how and why their work is helpful, on an individual level, the next time they hit snooze and wonder, what’s the point?
Their answer won’t just be the paycheck.