The deeper meaning of our work

January 7, 2020

Liza RobbinsBy Liza Robbins.

It’s that time of the year when people are thinking about the passage of time…

Looking back on the year that has just ended, and asking ourselves what worked for us, what made us happy, what has been fulfilling in our lives…

…And looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, planning what we want to do better, what we want to achieve and what changes we want to make.

For many, this will involve spending more time with friends and family, taking on new hobbies we are passionate about and pursuing projects we feel will be worthwhile.

In short, we’ll be looking for ways to add meaning to our lives.

It’s only natural, because most people want to live in a way which is significant and purposeful.

The same is true in business.

Yes, for some people profit will always come first. But most of us care about building a decent society and want the way they earn a living to have a positive impact.

Successive surveys have shown that Millennials choose working for purpose rather than paycheck, but I think that the need for meaning in the workplace cuts across all generations.

So this is a good time to talk about the meaning of our work.

We all know the stereotypes about accountants being dull bean-counters…

But that’s like saying that Michelangelo “just” painted a ceiling.

The truth is that the role we play is essential to civil society.

In fact, it underpins society!

Without good financial systems, society cannot function smoothly, just as it cannot function without a good legal system.

And without the kind of checks-and-balances we provide for the financial system as auditors, accountants and tax advisors, people will not be able to have confidence in society, either.

It’s hard to see how essential that confidence is until things go wrong.

Every Briton remembers the near-collapse of Northern Rock bank in 2008, which heralded the beginning of the financial crisis in the UK.

When people thought that their savings might be at risk, panic broke out, and long lines formed outside every branch, consisting of people desperate to withdraw all their money.

It was the first run on a British bank in 150 years, showing how quickly trust can erode in core financial institutions when people feel they are not being properly run or supervised.

And in every country, people need to trust that businesses and other institutions are having their finances properly monitored and that their financial interactions are above-board, in order to invest, save and spend their own money with confidence.

They couldn’t do this without us, and we should take enormous pride in that.

In fact, we should do our utmost to instil this sense of purpose in our teams, because everyone works better when they are doing work they feel has broader importance.

Giving our staff a compelling reason for why they do what they do will make them far more engaged and motivated.

And when our clients pick up on this, not only will they will they value our work more highly, they will enjoy working with us more.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore more deeply how we can give our companies a deep sense of meaning, and the various ways we can use this to push ourselves, our teams, our clients and our firms forward.