Meaningful work is about forging human connections to create a deeper, richer work experience. This concept is easy enough to agree with, but what is “meaningful work” really about? It’s about showing up in a way that lifts and supports the people around you. It’s being authentic and holding space for others to do the same. Simply put, it’s about allowing your heart to join you in your work.
We sometimes forget that people don’t just want trust and compassion from family and friends — they desire these behaviors at work, too. Here are some time-tested ways to build a human-centered, kindhearted work environment.
Build meaningful connections
While it’s true that we all have “colleagues” and “teammates,” these terms are insufficient.
They are imperfect words because they refer, ultimately, to the human beings we work with.
I.e., real people.
Although many of us cannot safely see each other in person right now, there are excellent ways we can reach out and create real bonds.
- Create an inclusive environment and communicate across differences. A healthy workplace embraces the unique perspectives and stories of its team members and creates space for each person to know they belong. Learn more about WashU’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, Black History Month events, training and how you can get involved.
- Attend one of the monthly 30-minute Meetaway events to connect and stay in touch with others at WashU.
- Above all, look for opportunities to help. You may already do this in an official capacity as part of your job, solving problems and supporting the work of others. Perhaps you have a knack for training new team members and can serve others as a mentor, or you simply excel at making professional links between others. The point is that everyone has skills and knowledge unique to our experiences, so make it a habit to share ideas and solutions to enhance people’s lives.
Cultivate care and positivity
Here are some specific behaviors that can help you glow — authentically — in your workplace.
- Be patient with others, extend grace. It’s an inherently caring gesture that supports positive interactions and reduces interpersonal conflicts.
- Use the Care and Connection Toolkit to lift up your colleagues and anyone around the university. It’s free, and it just might make someone’s day.
- Communicate healthily. Does your communication style help people feel welcome and understood? Do your conversations acknowledge the humanity you share with others, or do you approach discussions as a means to an end — a situation to be dealt with?
Recognize and appreciate others
One of the best ways to build a supportive, empathetic team is also the most straightforward:
Acknowledge them and what they do.
When people understand that their work is important and believe in their purpose within a team, they feel validated and encouraged. To increase the power of your team, show them how confident you are in their abilities and contributions.
- Practice active listening. Nowadays, our attention is pulled in dozens or hundreds of directions every day. Since we’re often in a hurry, we can fall into the trap of listening in order to talk rather than listening to understand.
- Be fully present during conversations, ask thoughtful questions, and use body language to confirm your attentiveness. Leave no doubt in their mind that what they say matters.
- Listening to others can reveal who is helped by current practices (i.e., the status quo) and who is hurt. It’s essential to learning about perspectives and experiences different than your own, and will help you work through discomfort and defensiveness. Consider a LinkedIn Learning course like Improving Your Listening Skills, Having Difficult Conversations or Listen to Lead to help you develop this skill.
- Express gratitude and pay sincere compliments. When you genuinely thank someone or praise them for what they did, something magical happens. The recipient feels the joy of appreciation, and you’ll feel the warmth of gratitude.
- Want to give someone kudos for their work? Highlight a faculty member, staff member or student through The Gratitude Project, or post a note for them on WashU’s Wall of Recognition.
- Acknowledge and give credit where credit is due. Recognizing someone for their efforts requires little investment, but can make a tremendous difference for the recipient. Everyone wants to do good work, and all of us feel great when someone notices how we helped.
Care for yourself to care for others. When you focus on your own mind and body, you have more energy to share with others.
Without adequate physical and mental well-being, working from the heart is going to be tough.
Every one of us juggles unique responsibilities within our jobs and personal lives, which makes finding a healthy balance between these worlds so critical.
Thankfully, resources and exercises are available to help you level out the seesaw in your life.
- Consider the people with whom you spend the most time at work and in your personal life. Do they bring positivity to your life? Are they supportive of your successes and willing to grow with you?
- Practice mindfulness to reduce your stress and improve your mind, body and interpersonal relationships. Visit the Mental Health Resources page for more self-care tools and ideas.
- For free, confidential, professional assistance, reach out to Work-Life Solutions (EAP) via phone or online. Help is available 24/7 for you and your family.