In 2006, when Ed Moy became director of the U.S. Mint, employee morale was incredibly low. The Best Places to Work in Federal Government ranked it number 211 out of 217 Federal agencies. No one wanted to work there, and Ed wanted to change that.
It wouldn’t be easy. Since the mission of the Mint is to make and circulate U.S. coins, many of its employees work in factories, which is generally considered drudgery. It’s the same work every day, rarely engaging human creativity or flexibility. To make such work enjoyable would be an uphill battle.
Ed’s first idea to turn things around was to solicit feedback at employee town halls. In the first year, after receiving more than 100 ideas, he implemented the top five. He thought addressing their felt needs would improve employee satisfaction. But the Mint rose just one spot in the rankings—from 211 to 210.
The next year he continued down the list, expanding telecommuting and making employee bonuses much fairer. Maybe, he thought, financial incentives could improve employee satisfaction. But in the end, the Mint lost its slight gain—going from 210 back to 211.
Something wasn’t right. Ed needed a new perspective.
As a Christian, Ed went to see what the Scriptures taught about God and his work. In the creation account, he realized God not only worked but also found satisfaction in it. “At the end of every day, God gave himself a performance review: ‘It is good,’” he noticed. Made in God’s image, Ed reasoned, human beings were made to work and to find satisfaction in it, too.
So he began to think about the importance of coins to our American culture. We don’t just use coins to buy things; we use them to make wishes at fountains. We flip them at football games. They bear testimony to our history. They serve as ambassadors to foreign nations.
This high vision led to a rebranding campaign. Ed crafted a message—“Connecting America through Coins”—and sought to imbue each position in the Mint with it. Since everyone needed to see how their work connected to this larger narrative, Ed and his team reconfigured performance evaluations. Quality control, for example, wasn’t just about checking for imperfections; it was about not slowing down commerce by creating shoddy coins, or about sending the message that America values excellent work.
Some argue that trying to find deep meaning in our work is putting lipstick on a pig or rearranging chairs on the Titanic. It’s a fool’s errand, especially for seemingly mundane work.
But studies show that “those who can connect their work to a higher purpose—whether they are a janitor or a banker—tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, put in longer hours, and rack up fewer absences.” Consider mountain climbers, says psychology professor Dan Ariely:
If you read books of people who climb mountains, difficult mountains, do you think that those books are full of moments of joy and happiness? No, they’re full of misery. In fact, it’s all about frostbite, difficulty of walking, difficulty of breathing, cold, challenging circumstances. And if people were just trying to be happy, the moment they would get to the top, they would say, “This is a terrible mistake. I will never do it again. Instead, let me sit on a beach somewhere, drinking mojitos.” But instead people go down and, after they recover, they go up again.
What mountain climbers teach us, he says, is that we care about reaching the end. We care about the fight and the struggle. We care about making progress and about connecting daily drudgery to a bigger narrative. We need a sense of purpose.
The Ultimate Narrative
Christians have such a narrative and purpose. We know that Jesus became incarnate, taking on the daily ordinariness of humanity and enduring the cross. Paul, too, was beaten, lashed, and shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:16–33). Yet these men had a greater narrative in mind than their own personal comfort. They endured because they connected their work to the ultimate narrative—that God sent Jesus to his people to reconcile them to God.
And our narrative includes even more than evangelism, more than spreading the good news of God’s reconciling message. As disciples, we’re called to live our whole lives—from family to church to volunteer activities to “whatever you do” before the face of God and for his glory (Col. 3:17; cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).
And that includes our vocations. Our ordinary, everyday work points to that larger narrative. Though we only see small glimpses of glory in this life, we’ll see the whole panorama in heaven. Since the resurrection is true, and the perishable will put on the imperishable, Paul can write: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
What does this look like in particular vocations? Mechanics diagnose and fix cars to create a safe environment for transportation. Information technology workers build networks to help researchers find cures for deadly diseases. Accountants crunch numbers to ensure honest and fair dealings. Grocery store clerks stock shelves with products to help people nourish themselves and their families.
Understanding our work in its larger context matters. When we see our jobs merely as means to our paychecks, we miss the bigger picture of what God is doing in the world. We focus on the drudgery and the toil. But if we expand our vision to see how our everyday work—even when it seems mundane—contributes to human flourishing and furthers the public good, then we’re more likely to do good work and enjoy doing it, too. We’re more likely to reflect on it, despite its thorns and thistles, and say, “It is good.”
When Ed connected the everyday work of the U.S. Mint to a larger narrative—“Connecting America through Coins”—he experienced a dramatic turnaround in employee morale. After three years of implementing the new narrative across the board at every level, the Mint rose in the rankings—from 211 to 58.
It was the biggest jump in the history of the survey for any Federal agency on the list.
And it wasn’t just a fancy, slick marketing campaign. It was connecting a deep part of being meaning-makers—of who God made us to be—to the larger narrative of working for the public good, loving our neighbors, and contributing to human flourishing. And people responded by enjoying their work.