The Search for Meaning at Work: Part 4

The Search for Meaning at Work: Part 4 

Help Yourself, Help Your Company

Last spring, 22 employee volunteers were chosen to participate in the pilot. They spent time with Spadafore assessing their talents, values, interests, and goals, (Career Change Program), and exploring ways to bring them together in a company project.

Employees who came up with workable business ideas presented them to a mentor council that decided whether to fund the proposed projects. Employees who were funded were then assigned mentors who could help them see their projects through. 

Of the 22 participants, eight have already proposed new projects, and several of those projects have been funded. One employee, Steve Batdorff, had been working as chief of operations for the company’s FAA Duats Program, an online information system that helps pilots and flight instructors file flight plans, get weather briefings, and obtain other flight-related information. Batdorff, an electrical engineer, liked his position, but he wanted to be able to help people. “I like to be able to help as many people as I can, not just me and my family, but my staff, customers, and the company overall.” 

Batdorff suggested that the flight information system be expanded to include additional flight-related services and commercial advertising. As he explained, it would be a great way for pilots to get information and for the company to increase revenue. It could also make the government program commercially viable. Not only that, but also the project would provide growth opportunities for his staff and increase his job security. 

The project was funded on the spot. Now, Batdorff spends 15 percent of his time developing the new system. “This has given me a career path in a new area and allowed me to help my staff grow while making money for the company.”

Two other participants in the project created ways for the company’s technical employees to gain marketing experience and for marketing employees to understand more about technology. Both participants are software engineers who want to get into marketing because they want to work more closely with customers. Their project to design new career paths for the company is allowing them to gradually gain the marketing experience they need while helping other employees. 

Although still in its infancy, GTE’s intrapraneurship program has been so successful that the company is considering offering it to other divisions. “Today, when you look at employees who are participating in the program and compare their behaviors to what they were like a year ago, it’s like night and day,” says Spadafore. “Employees who once passively accepted their roles are now laughing, smiling, happy, and passionate about their work. You can see them becoming leaders.” 

GTE is interested in more than extending the program’s reach. At Spadafore’ssuggestion, it is considering redesigning its entire hiring process so that, in the future, new employees will be given six to eight weeks to learn about the company and decide what kind of job excites them most. “Today, we hire based on hard skills and then slot people into a job,” says Spadafore. “We’re trying to find a way to give employees more of a choice–to help them research and find work here that is meaningful to them.” 

The project at GTE is an outgrowth of Spadafore’s own experience as a GTE employee who found himself, at age 28, so depressed he was unable to get out of bed in the morning. “I was an engineer who had absolutely no interest in the work, yet I had no idea what else I wanted to do.” After some extensive soul searching with a career counselor, Spadafore realized he wasn’t cut out for engineering. “I wanted to work with people. GTE gave me the flexibility to pursue work that had more meaning for me. In return, I’ve been able to help the company.” 

Do what you love, love what you do

Spadafore’s experience serves as a lesson for other companies struggling with disenfranchised, unmotivated workers. When you help employees find meaning in their work, you’re helping to light fires that have a better chance of staying lit. Even if you affect only 5 percent of the population, imagine the productivity gains if more employees felt like Spadafore. He says, “Today, I love what I do so much that I don’t feel like I’m working.” Imagine that. 

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Shari Caudron is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO | email: