Got Burnout? Try Purpose and Meaning

I’m back with another installment on purpose, this one is all about how tying it to meaning can help your team connect to a bigger picture that keeps them motivated, engaged, and energized in their role. Please give it a read when you have time, and send me any feedback you have (good, bad, otherwise. I’ll take it all). 

Thank you for your time!  -Becky


Got Burnout? Try Purpose and Meaning.

By Becky Lemon, 1/22/19

It’s January, in Minnesota.  The whirlwind of the winter holidays has died down and left us with, well, winter.  Staring down a long stretch of cold temperatures, limited sun, and slower business ripens the conditions for us to get bored or frustrated at work.  For many people in our industry, especially the ones that don’t get a chance to participate in creative projects, the repetition of the day-to-day can start feeling less like a welcome respite from a busy season and more like an endless grind.  The not-so-funny thing is, when we make it through to busier times, that repetition coupled with long hours and intense pressure can trigger a similar response. The effect of it shows up in many ways, including judgmental comments, short tempers, exasperated eye-rolling, and complaining about pretty much everything.  In these moments (or weeks or months), we lose motivation. We get farther away from the passion that attracted us to where we are and we tend to forget why we’ve chosen to do what we do. We focus on the tasks at hand, often narrowly, and they take over the narrative of each passing hour: get ice (again), fire cauliflower (again), greet wide-eyed guest (again), clean mats (again), special a table (again), chop onions (again), again, again, again, cueing the hopeless question “is that all there is?”  This can happen even when you love your job.

If you lead individuals or teams that feel this way, there are a lot of paths out of it.  I’ve got one for you here. First, ask questions to get a real understanding of what is going on – maybe that feeling is a result of other factors or conflicts that need to be addressed that you’re unaware of (e.g., they need more time off, they feel unfulfilled in their role, they are experiencing poor work conditions, etc).  If it is this stuck-in-the-routine brand of burnout, help them uncover the purpose and meaning of their work so they can tell a different story than the one they’re telling themselves.


This answers the question “why do you do what you do?”  It moves people away from just focusing on what they do (I bartend) or what they’re doing (I’m prepping food) and connects it to a bigger picture outcome.  Only they know the why and the outcome that resonates with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s lofty or practical, it just has to remind them that their time and effort is contributing to something.  You might have to dig a little bit to get to it, and here’s what it could sound like:

  • I’m helping my guests connect and create memorable experiences
  • Prepping this makes it easier for my teammates to do their job and these ingredients create an amazing dish that is going to make someone happy
  • This job allows me to support my family or pay for school


Purpose usually isn’t enough.  Meaning is what brings it home, it answers the question “why is doing this significant to you?” Powerful meanings have a component of contribution to others or giving back, keep working on it until you have that element.  Uncovering meaning that involves giving back somehow is powerful, if you can’t get there that’s okay.

  • Helping people and making them happy brings me joy
  • Providing for my family offers us stability
  • Completing school gets me one step closer to realizing my dream

Put it all together

Help them keep their purpose and meaning top of mind while they’re working, especially when you sense they’re struggling (“What are you here for?  Why is doing this important?”). Check in fairly frequently to see if it is transforming how they’re engaging with their tasks.

Go the extra mile

Find and invite them into a project or new responsibility outside of their normal tasks that allows them to exercise more of what brings meaning to them.

In case you like math

(Purpose + Meaning) x Storytelling = Motivation

People are in their position at their restaurant for a reason.  Connecting them to why they are there and what it’s doing for them is one key to turning around burnout.  It’s also a powerful guide for you as a leader in keeping them motivated, developing, and thriving. Hold on a second.  Are you the one who needs this? Mmm hmm. Go back and ask yourself those purpose and meaning questions, or, better yet, find a partner you trust to help you out (ya get to deeper stuff that way).

The shift in energy from “I’m doing this” to “I’m doing this because” can be remarkable.  Go see what it’s all about.

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