Drives are the real engine behind growth and development, but to what extent are companies in the Northern Netherlands consciously working on them? And how do they approach it? NOM is curious and, for this column, interviews organizations that are actively exploring their motivations.
As a girl, she thought it was magical that adults had jobs. Going to work every day had to be something really fun! As a dyed-in-the-wool career counselor, Heidi Jansen now knows that work can also lead to frustration, indifference or moral stress. With Buro Waai she responds to the increasing need for meaning in work.
'Organizations flourish best when the people who work there have a good time together and take care of each other a little when needed,' Heidi soberly observes. 'You often see it naturally in start-up companies and SMEs. There, people are still close to their original drives and the teams are small enough to function without systems and protocols. There is room for fun and autonomy and goals are worked on together, in trust and security. All themes that are essential to experiencing meaning in your work.'
Buro Waai is itself such a start-up company. Seven passionate professionals have brought their hearts, heads and hands together to dedicate themselves - from their base in Groningen - to meaningful work together. They do this in the sense of: contributing to work as a place where everyone can experience pleasure, satisfaction and meaning. According to Heidi, there is a great need for this. 'Just look at the alarming amount of overworked employees and burn-outs in our society. Or, on the contrary, bore-outs, where there is no longer any sense at all in and of work.'
We need each other
'Taking meaningful work back to its core is about doing what matters and noticing that you matter,' continues Heidi, who in addition to being an entrepreneur is also the author of the book Work & Meaning. 'To matter, we need each other. While the focus in our current work environments is often very much on the individual: getting the best out of yourself, being self-directed, challenging and developing yourself, personal growth and responsibility... That's all well and good, but there may be something more. We forget that you need others for that development. That, above all, we can get the best out of each other and be responsible together.'
In our performance and judgment culture, Heidi says, we are so concerned with personal success that a competition is created that ultimately undermines people and organizations. 'Those who in the rat race indicate that they can no longer cope are now expected to start working on their own with a coach, for example. While you can also look at the system, to organize differently or redistribute the burden. If there is enough safety to be vulnerable within a team, a connection is created and people are more willing to help each other. Those are the companies where people really put their shoulders to the wheel together.'
Space for life questions
Heidi and her colleagues find that they are in the zeitgeist. 'Here in Groningen, a movement has already been set in motion around the meaning economy and social entrepreneurship. This creates space and fertile ground for the questions of meaning with which working people are increasingly struggling. We therefore also focus on coaches, occupational health and safety services and career agencies. It is good that these life questions are recognized. So that you don't have to go to a psychotherapist immediately if you are at a loss as to why you are doing what you are doing. If you get stuck in all kinds of protocols that constrict your personal meaning, it is not so strange that the meaning is sometimes hard to find.
Buro Waai wants to inspire people - preferably at the team and organizational level - to rediscover meaning. They have developed programs and methods for this purpose, although Heidi emphasizes that meaning is not about models and quick fixes. 'The themes from which we work primarily offer starting points for conversation. We set in motion a certain way of thinking and working in which teams enter into an ongoing process. In which they form a basis for meaningful work by talking to each other, listening and finding solutions together if something is wrong. And sometimes meaningful work is also a matter of enduring; of persevering through difficult phases and getting through them together.'
Heidi likes to poke fun at SMEs. 'Don't let the current standard of performance and making everything measurable fool you. Especially many of the smaller companies realize like no other that meaning can be found in the simplest things, such as fun at work, good coffee and nice colleagues. It is not so much about heaven-defying new things, but about returning to what we actually all know: meaningful work is doing together what matters. For Buro Waai, that means contributing to the labor market of the future. We are committed to less bureaucracy and more trust, then meaning will almost automatically be restored.