Work apathy, resignation and overall numbness are rampant.  This is why so many people are “weekend warriors” or simply “sucking it up” to survive until their next vacation.  It’s heartbreaking.  And preventable.

Once again I was reminded of a foundational core culture building block that often gets passed over as trite: mission.  And not just any mission – but one that gives you and your team goosebumps.  A goosebump worthy mission dissipates work apathy.

This recent article, “Wealthy, Miserable and Elite”, points out that even a salary of $1.2 million won’t buy you or your team happiness and where there’s a lack of meaning there’s work apathy and “an underlying sense that their work isn’t worth the grueling effort they’re putting into it.”

Your mission creates the meaning.  People want to contribute. They want to achieve. They want to make a difference. Connect them to what matters.

Here’s an excerpt from my book Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace that shares with you how to author a mission worth working for:

“Clearly explain how your organization makes the world a better place.

Think about a moving company.

On the surface, its mission is to move belongings from A to B in good condition. While true, it’s not inspiring. It’s not inspiring because it doesn’t speak to WHY and HOW belongings are moved.

When I held orientation with a new group of crew-members, I would tell them:

“Moving is one of the most stressful experiences people go through. People are not their best selves when they’re moving. They may also be dealing with the aftermath of a death or divorce. Then you come along and load all of their worldly possessions into your truck, and drive away. It’s your job to provide peace of mind. It’s your job to help people through one of the most difficult transitions in their life. Our customers need to know you care about their belongings and about their lives. Our tagline ‘We Provide Peace of Mind, All in One Piece’ isn’t just a marketing slogan. It’s what we do every day, all day.”

It was amazing to watch many of these young men leave orientation with a peacock’s pride, knowing their work was important. They were no longer in a second-class job, to be mumbled under their breath at the family picnic. Being a mover meant they were not only strong and hard-working, but they were helping people through one of the most difficult transitions of their life. In addition to creating pride, this awareness brought forth impressive empathy when caring for our customers. They went the extra mile because it mattered. Because they mattered.

Why does your organization exist in the world?

Why do you do what you do? If you’re a for-profit company, yes, you exist to make money. But your service or product does more than that and so does your team. Your organization brings joy, solves a problem, provides ease or saves time. So do your team members. Connect those dots for them.

Good companies do this. Medtronic sends its engineers out into the world to see the medical devices they’ve made in action so they can viscerally watch and feel the purpose of their work. UCB Pharmaceuticals invites patients to executive meetings so the people in charge can hear about their work making a difference. Every workday each DaVita employee housed at headquarters walks by a dialysis treatment chair on the way to their desk.

I was presenting the concept of connecting the dots to a CEO peer group when a man raised his hand and said, “While I appreciate the concept, we make inner tubes for tractor tires. Not exactly inspiring stuff. We’re in manufacturing—we work all day in a plant where it smells, it’s dirty and it’s loud.”

I looked at him and said, “Are you kidding? What you do is essential! If you didn’t make the inner tubes for the tractor tires, then the tractor wouldn’t work, and if the tractor didn’t work, the fields wouldn’t be plowed and the food wouldn’t be harvested. Your inner tubes for tractor tires not only help support the success of farmers, they help feed and nourish our nation.”

Your mission is your gooey center. It is the warm, beating heart of why you do what you do. It’s why you contribute your life to this work and ask others to do the same.


Team Building/Culture Building Activity:

Work with your team to develop a mission that lands as powerful and meaningful.  If you’re struggling to come up with your mission, connect the dots. Keep asking “Why?” until you get to that simple elegant nugget that’s true. Stop before it gets too existential or sounds like marketing propaganda. Start by watching Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”  Please note, while your mission ideally aligns with your marketing and desired reputation, it is more important for your mission to resonate with your team than with your clientele. You will know you have hit the jackpot when your simple phrase gives you goosebumps and resonates with your top performers. It’s easy to understand and repeat. To uncover your gooey center, consider answering the questions below. Note those words that “pop” the most. Your concise, simple mission statement should consist of a strong verb and simple, tangible language.

  • What would be lost if our organization ceased to exist?
  • Why does what we do matter?
  • How do we contribute to society?
  • What problems do we solve?
  • What joy do we bring? And why?
  • What pain do we solve? And why?