How to find meaning in your work during the pandemic

How to find meaning in your work during the pandemic

With businesses and jobs categorized as "essential" and "nonessential," it can be easy to feel your job isn't important. IT executives explain how to avoid that trap, and help colleagues do the same

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We're living through a time when our jobs and businesses have been split into two categories: Essential or nonessential. Given the economic crisis spawned by this global pandemic, many people feel grateful to still have a job, regardless of whether it's directly aiding those impacted by COVID-19. Yet, this pandemic is leading some to ponder questions about the value of their work if they’re not classified as an “essential employee.” 

If you’ve been feeling a tug at your heart, or hearing the whispers of an existential crisis, wondering if your IT job really matters right now, then take heed of what these technology leaders have to say. 

“Right now, it is important for those of us who are blessed to not be ill to do our part to get us in a position to return to normal once we begin to get this under control,” says Equifax CTO Bryson Koehler. 

[ To be more change ready, focus on your adaptability skills. Read also: 4 ways to improve your adaptability. ]

"I would be hard pressed to come up with a company that isn't still valuable today."

“I really believe that kind of normalcy is important because if we freak out, or we lose faith, or we become depressed, then that adds new complexities to our challenge. I think we could all agree that really what we want is just to get back to normal. And so keeping things going is a valiant effort. I would be hard pressed to come up with a company that isn’t still valuable today. For employees, whatever you found joy in before this is probably still there. Yes, you can get bogged down by news and reports about the crisis, and maybe that makes your work seem less important. But I’m very optimistic that as a global society, we’re going to get through this,” Koehler says. 

We all have a part to play

If you occasionally find yourself questioning the importance of your work right now, think about your role and how that fits into the bigger picture of your organization, says Red Hat CIO Mike Kelly. 

 "It’s important to remember that people are counting on you, regardless of what your specific role is and what hand your organization may or may not be playing in pandemic relief efforts,” Kelly said. “If you don’t think what you’re doing is important, try to take stock of what you’re doing for your company and you’ll find where your worth is. It takes a team of everybody working together to make our organizations function, and ultimately for the economy to work."

"Remember that people are counting on you, regardless of what your specific role is."

In fact, IT organizations are finally getting much deserved recognition for keeping businesses running. For some IT workers, that has meant working longer hours and juggling new priorities. Some CIOs are going above and beyond to ensure their employees feel appreciated and supported. NTT DATA Services CIO Barry Shurkey says he has begun leading “skip-level meetings” where he meets with individual team members to check-in and find out how they are handling the new normal and how he can best support them.

“Everyone’s role in our company is valuable and appreciated, and our IT staff who are working countless hours to support our client’s critical IT environments and our own, have completely blown me away in how they’ve supported the urgent needs of our company, and clients,” Shurkey said. 

[ IT leaders in our community are sharing advice on navigating this crisis. Read also: High EQ leadership: 10 ways to put your people first during the pandemic. ]

Leaders nurture morale

Those small interactions with leaders can go a long way toward lifting spirits, and helping employees understand the value of their work. It’s something that CIOs and other IT leaders should be making time for, says Ellucian CIO Lee Congdon. 

“It’s the job of the leadership team to keep up morale, help employees find meaning in their work, and set direction,” Congdon said. 

However, keep in mind that your company’s executive leadership may be swamped right now. If that’s the case, employees may need to demonstrate fortitude and maybe even proactively identify other ways to spend their time. 

"Finding ways to add value can bring great meaning to your work."

“For the industries and organizations that are facing very difficult economic challenges right now, I would encourage employees to offer positive feedback about the things that can be done,” Congdon said. “But also realize these are very difficult times for leadership teams that are trying to work through the challenges of responding to a completely different environment. In those instances, I would encourage IT workers to have some patience with their leadership.”

“We all have a sense of what’s important to our organization and when we can add value,” Congdon added. “Finding ways to add value can bring great meaning to your work. For example, if your primary project is on hold right now, this might be a good opportunity to pursue a project that got moved to the back burner – one that you know is important to the organization but has not been getting a lot of attention."

"Or, for example, now might be a good time to take that Python programming class that you’ve been interested in to improve your skills so you can contribute some data and analytics work for the organization. Also, offer to help with any of your organization’s current hot spots. Does your customer support team need extra help? Perhaps you can give them some assistance either indirectly or directly as well,” Congdon says.

Keeping things normal is an important job 

If you’re still struggling to find meaning in your work right now, Koehler says it may be helpful to turn to history for a reminder. 

“Think about what we learned back from World War II,” Koehler said. “You’ve probably heard stories or seen movies about how those who were left at home struggled with the question of whether or not what they were doing really mattered. You might have heard people say, ‘I’m a librarian. I’m a mechanic. I’m not off fighting. Maybe I’m not valuable.’ And the reality is, no, that’s totally valuable because that’s what everybody was off fighting for. The soldiers who were off fighting the war wanted to return to normal, and they needed everybody at home to keep things running so they had something to come back to.”  

“If you look back at times of crisis over the history of the world, the role of keeping things normal is really important because those who are in the thick of it – a doctor or nurse – they want to return to normal," Koehler says. “They want their restaurant to be there when they’re done with all of this. They want to be able to go buy a car. They want to go on a vacation. They want a hotel to go to. And so there is huge importance in the role that most of us are playing, which is, let’s keep things running even if we’re doing it in a slightly different way right now.” 

As community manager for The Enterprisers Project, Ginny Hamilton helps build the site's community of CIOs, IT leaders, and readers. She is responsible for helping tell the stories of leading IT executives – showcasing the projects, experiences, and challenges they're facing in their roles as IT leaders.

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