Fulfillment: Is it about me or the company?

It’s time to recognize that satisfaction, engagement are about people





Few of us would say we do not want to be fulfilled. However, as individuals, the definition of fulfillment varies widely. But what does this have to do with a corporation? Below are some questions to prompt thinking on what fulfillment means for corporations.

What is fulfillment? Bill Schiemann defines life fulfillment as “achieving one’s dreams and creating a lifestyle that brings exceptional happiness.” It is an ideal that prompts people to grow and achieve. This implies a restless search for “exceptional” happiness. Is this drawn from the U.S. concept of “pursuit of happiness”? Can there be happiness or fulfillment with just contentment and being?

Schiemann also proposes that individuals feel fulfilled  “when they are living and working in alignment with their values and those of their friends, family, colleagues and employers; using skills and interests both on and off the job that represent their highest capabilities and fully engaged in the significance and purpose of their work, family and life overall.” This statement puts living, friends and family on equal footing with work, colleagues and employers. This assumption may not be true for many.

Who is being fulfilled? Fulfillment and happiness, even contentment, imply an emotional state. So, first of all, we are dealing with people, not business entities. A life plan is not just a career plan and it is not a business plan. There may be tools that help individuals work through rational choices to improve their situations but, even so, highly successful individuals who have made all of the “right” career choices may be discontented and disillusioned by the lack of satisfaction with their seeming success.

Individuals need to make choices that are best for them in both the short-term to reflect current circumstances and the long-term to build overall satisfaction with their life journey.

How do corporations confuse fulfillment with their needs? Corporations, while entities under the law, are not human. They may have a corporate culture, but they do not have intellect, personality or emotions. They may look to fulfill their respective mandates in terms of promises to customer, financial sustainability, compliance with legal statures, and social responsibly, but they cannot experience fulfilment. Since corporations rely on people to be successful, they strive to find ways to secure the most cost-effective, talented and competitive workforce possible.

Corporations, recognizing the important emotional component of their workforce, develop programs and practices such as recruitment screening for compatibility, satisfaction surveys, career paths and development, and engagement and motivation programs.

While these may be helpful to employees, the underlying theme is about the corporation not individuals. If corporations want to truly focus on fulfillment as a workforce strategy, they need to look at work from the perspective of their many very human and different employees.

Corporate work and our lifespan — what is different? Existing social trends may impact employee views on the world of work. Millennials have experienced delays in entering the workforce both by extending their education and in an inability to get stable work. Older workers have stayed on the job well beyond age 65 due to legislative changes, financial need, jobs with less physical labour or dependence on their work for identity.

Both young and old workers may be engaged in part-time or contingent work. Lifetime employment is becoming rare. Work over a lifespan may vary widely, and may begin or end on terms most suitable for the worker’s short- or long-term interests. The current environment is more likely to reinforce a view that people work for money and are responsible for their own fulfillment.

What can corporations do to support personal fulfillment?

• Recognize workers are human beings with all their variety and complexity. Design “programs” to come at issues from an individual human perspective as much as a corporate perspective.

• Some people may live to work. Help them find accomplishment, but not on the backs of others or by pushing them beyond their maturity or capability level. Help them earn the respect of others working in the organization — up, down or across.

• Some people work to live. Others have a strong passion or need to focus outside the work environment. Be clear on what is a good job, 100 per cent, and do not punish them for doing just that and nothing more. They are keeping their end of the deal. Celebrate the good employee. Be flexible and support their outside passion or interests where possible.

• Loyalty, outside ideology, is a person-to-person connection. Managers need to treat employees as respected individuals and meet their needs and interests, even if they are not directly tied to work output.

• Corporate brand may create individual pride from affiliation. Pride could be generated by what the company does as a business or the character or reputation of the company.

• Do no harm. Examine policies and practices for those that are overly restrictive or one-size-fits-all solutions that limit the ability of managers to support individual employee fulfillment, either on the job or in other pursuits.

We attribute human qualities to computers, pets, plants and cartoon characters to give them dimension, relatability, individuality, respect and emotional connection. It is time to recognize that fulfillment, satisfaction, engagement and commitment are about people, not the corporation.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, a consulting practice focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. Toronto-based, she has taught human HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at [email protected].


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