Transcendent Work: Inspiring Satisfaction and Results
In the 21st century, forward-thinking organizations endeavor to recruit, retain, engage and empower staff. As UCLA's human resources website proclaims, proactive individuals seek “more than a job–a career" (UCLA, 2009). According to T.J. Moran, “The successful organization of the future will have to be able not only to attract and retain talented employees but also to inspire those employees” (Moran, 2009, p. 78). Work encompasses intrinsic value and reward, yet not all work is equal. Only transcendent work—defined as work that inspires satisfaction and results—lifts the spirit and gives meaning to the vicissitudes and vagaries of life.
I was first introduced to the concept of transcendent work by my family. My father, an aeronautical engineer, never lost his enthusiasm for working at McDonnell Douglas. My mother took pride in creating a beautiful and orderly home. My grandparents espoused a simple creed, “To rise each day and do one's work is the greatest blessing.” My present position as Risk Analyst in the UCLA Health System's Risk Management Department exemplifies transcendent work at its best.
A Matter of Attitude
Since we spend most waking hours in the workplace, a positive attitude toward work improves one's quality of life. Staying motivated and positive is contingent upon finding the right work—transcendent work. My doctoral research identified factors contributing to positive work attitude and motivation in the workplace. Transcendent work is challenging, actualizing work, which imbues life with meaning and purpose and makes it possible to look forward to going to work.
Personal growth through motivating work can provide enduring satisfaction. The short-lived joys of amusement cannot compare to the genuine fulfillment of meaningful, creative and challenging work. John Wood, a former Microsoft executive who started a not-for-profit group that builds schools and libraries for Asian children exemplifies this initiative. “I don't look at balance as an ideal. What I look at is, ‘Am I happy?’ If the answer is yes, then everything else is inconsequential. If you look at the number of hours I work, it's probably extreme. But those hours talking with an adviser over dinner—is that work? Well, yeah, but it's also stimulating" (Hammonds, 2004, p. 2).
Increasing numbers of Americans are staying employed past age 75, seeking both financial and psychological rewards (Saillant 2005). Improving the work experience offers the potential to inspire personal satisfaction and maximize organizational results. As Klaus Zimmerman, president of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, muses, “We have created a leisure society, while the Americans have created a work society. But our model does not work anymore. We are in the process of rethinking it” (Landler, 2004, para. 7).
Why do some love their work and others hate it? Theory and research suggest that a combination of attitude and work content result in transcendent work. A model of this concept may be:
Attitude + Work Content = Transcendent Work
While the attitude factor may resist change, work content is relatively malleable. Identifying components essential to high-quality work content is the first step toward creating a transcendent tomorrow. To meet the rising expectations of today’s highly educated knowledge worker, organizations have both the responsibility and privilege of enriching work content to synthesize transcendent work. Working together, individuals and organizations form a powerful team. Since everyone benefits—individual, organization, community, nation and world—creating transcendent work is a classic “win-win” strategy for inspiring satisfaction and results (Underdahl, 2000).
Moran, T. J. (2009). The values that build a strong organization. In Hesselbein, F. & Goldsmith, M. (Eds.), The organization of the future 2: Visions, strategies, and insights on managing in a new era (pp. 77-87). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Underdahl, L. (2000). The soul of work: A quest for the transcendent. Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library [now AuthorHouse].