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August 23, 2017 / 

Anneli L. Tostar

How to communicate clearly with customers and make your work matter

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There's absolutely nothing worse than having your time wasted. With so few hours in the day and so few days in the week, it can feel like you never have time to get things done. Which is why it can be discouraging and frustrating if your nine-to-five feels like it isn’t even making a difference.

 

Sure, it'd be great if we could all be human rights lawyers and doctors, but the fact is that most of us aren’t. If you’re reading this, it’s (probably) too late to become one of those. Sorry.

 

But hey! We’ve got some good news for you.

 

Your job matters. 

 

We know what you’re thinking, How do you know that? Maybe I shouldn’t have installed that Spyware software on my computer…

 

Don’t worry–no stalking needed. Because the fact is, all jobs matter. If there wasn’t a need for someone like you to do a job like yours, the market would have eliminated it eons ago and replaced it with a robot with better spelling. That’s basic supply and demand. 

 

The problem is, it can likely feel like no one cares about your job, more often than you'd like. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. It’s just that most of the time, we don’t fully appreciate everyone’s role until something goes wrong, or until someone is missing from the equation. When a restaurant is understaffed, that’s when you notice the crucial role of the busboy. When a newspaper prints a typo, that’s when you notice (the absence of) the proofreader or fact-checker.

 

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But it shouldn’t take something being broken for your coworkers and boss to appreciate all of the hard work you do. Worse still is if you don’t feel like your work matters to your customers (or you don’t know who you customers are). A recent survey by workplace experts Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi showed that only 26% percent of employees at for-profit companies felt strongly about the purpose of their work. Even in the nonprofit sector, only 53% felt this way. In the words of one infamous boss, “Sad!”

 

So, how to get yourself and others to see the purpose of your work?

You may be tempted to opt for cheesy mission statements. The reality is that most mission statements sound exactly the same, and are often filled with lofty-yet-vague phrases that don’t actually give employees any idea of what they’re supposed to be doing. Better to nix the mission statement entirely than to pretend the pseudo-inspirational sentences are actually helping anyone.

 

Instead, the biggest thing you can do to see the impact of your work is by actually connecting people with the customers who care about their work. At the Ritz-Carlton, catering to individual needs is ingrained in every aspect of the hotel, including the budget. Each employee gets an allowance to spend on guests of their choosing–one employee built a ramp so a wheelchair-bound guest could get a better view of the ocean. Other companies like Apple allow their employees to spend extra time with or make exceptions for certain customers. This not only connects employees with the impact of their work, it also allows customers to connect a face to a company. (My dad is on a first-name basis with the employees at one Apple store.)

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If you’re having trouble figuring out where to start, there are three questions you can ask to maximize your impact (and stop wasting your time!):

  1. What does each employee think the purpose of their job is, and what do they want it to be? If there’s a difference between the two, how can you bridge the gap?
  2. Whose opinion matters the most? If the answer is “board members” rather than “customers,” something needs to change.
  3. Where can you see evidence of your and your company’s impact? The answer shouldn’t just be in the quarterly earnings; individual employees should know that their work matters without a company-wide email. Carve out time for employees to talk to real customers who have been affected by their work.

 

Ironically, the most effective way to stop wasting your time is by spending more time; more time communicating the impact of work. Everything starts with effective communication, and this can also help team members to work more effectively with one another. With better communication, your IT guy can realize the importance of his role–even before the copier breaks.

  

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Who wrote this?  

This was posted by Anneli L. Tostar, a Harvard-trained anthropologist and artist, originally from Portland, Oregon. She now lives in Stockholm and is studying urban planning and design. Anneli speaks five languages and understands none of them. 


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