Lucy Kellaway the Financial Times journalist is a bit of a media superstar. She has her weekly podcast; her FT column; and BBC World Service slot amongst others. Today she was talking on the BBC about why people demand meaning in their work, and why they feel the need to ‘make a difference’. She is breath of fresh air, cutting through the hypocrisy that surrounds much business speak but this article left me a little worried.
Her view is that making a difference is way too gandiose an aspiration unless you set your sights quite low, and see the difference you make being limited to improving your colleagues’ workplace existence or making one customer a bit happier. She asks why anyone expects more.
I love Lucy Kellaway’s pragmatic and sensible approach; she makes me smile and makes good points as well. But here I worry. She lets the employer right off the hook. It us up to the individual to squeeze whatever meaning he or she can out of a miserable lot and, hey, be grateful because, at least, you still have a job.
I agree that an individual can make an individual impact in any workplace by choosing to be miserable or positive, but it is the hard times when the better employer manages to get an edge by creating a climate where staff can excel, feel that they are making a contribution, and feel they are moving towards to their full potential. This is not only for highly paid executives but right across the piece. One of Archie Norman’s great acheivements at ASDA was to make his front line employees feel special, feel valued and feel noticed. And the result was that they performed. His people made the difference. And in a workplace where noone appears to care, this simply won’t happen.