Over 80% of American college graduates want meaningful work, but fewer than 50% feel they’ve found it. This is a significant problem because meaningful work impacts your financial, physical, and social health.
Finding meaning at work means clearly understanding what it is (and is not) and why it’s so important. We’ll discuss all that and more in this article.
What Does Meaningful Work Mean?
Before we go any further, let’s define meaningful work. Meaningful work fuels your passions while contributing to a greater purpose. It means connecting with others and helping them in a way that excites you.
Meaningful work doesn’t mean you’ll be stress-free all of the time. Often, important work comes with stress, struggle, and effort, but because it can be linked to meaning, it’s worthwhile.
The exact way in which work is meaningful depends on the individual. We’ll discuss what factors make up meaningful work and how you can find it later in this article.
Importance of Meaningful Work And What It Looks Like
The more meaning you find at work, the more engaged you’ll be. This benefits employees and employers alike.
Meaningful work – in practical terms – can be built on the following:
- Flexibility at work
- Autonomy to set your own schedule and hold yourself accountable
- Using information, tools, and processes to streamline work
- Work that aligns with personal goals and fosters professional development
- An understanding of expected outcomes and how success is measured
- Using innovative technologies to enable better output
Ultimately, a company that supports meaningful work creates an environment that fosters collaborative, purpose-driven, and flexible work.
How to Find Meaningful Work
How can you, as an individual, find meaningful work? Here are 6 ways.
- Follow Your Passions
It’s challenging to find meaning if your work doesn’t excite you. While your job doesn’t have to be the most passionate part of your life, you want to feel enthusiasm towards the day-to-day.
Your work passions may shift as you go through your career, so be open.
- Lead With Empathy
Meaningful work is largely defined by helping others; leading with empathy helps accomplish this. Focusing on problem-solving and relationship-building are the keys to finding meaning at your job.
- Add Value
If your work adds value to people’s lives and improves the world, whether in a large or small way, you’re far more likely to derive meaning from it.
While driving a business’s bottom line is critical, think about adding as much value as possible for your customers.
- Align Work With Personal Values
Finding meaningful work is much easier if your values match your company’s. Finding meaning doesn’t mean curing cancer or inventing the next big thing. It can simply be finding work that aligns with what you find important, whether that be environmentalism, social justice, or enhancing technology.
Importantly, meaningful work and money can coexist. Work is not meant to be done for free, so seek fair compensation and don’t feel burdened by it.
- Seek Growth Opportunities
Meaningful work is easier to find when your work allows you to grow. You can’t always do work that saves lives or changes society in its entirety, but you can always look to grow and become a better version of yourself.
Being the best version of yourself allows you to maximize your contributions at work, impacting your customers’ lives.
- Focus on Small Actions
We tend to find meaning in significant milestones. In reality, you’ll spend most of your professional life taking small steps that add up.
Meaningful work is built out of these small actions, so don’t forget to celebrate and recognize their importance.
Meaningful Work Myths
To sharpen your understanding of meaningful work, let’s examine some myths about it.
Myth 1: Only Professions That “Help” Are Meaningful
Psychologist Blake Allan and his colleagues found that meaningful work occurs when you find your work to be important, valuable, or worthwhile. Thus, its exact definition is largely driven by your set of beliefs.
Although traditional helping professions – such as counselors, caretakers, or firefighters – may make it easier to find the “why,” all occupations have it. Step back and think about the positive impact you have.
Myth 2: Meaningful Work Isn’t Strictly Necessary
Many of us may think that finding meaningful work is a “nice-to-have,” but, in reality, most of us strongly depend on it.
A Gallup study found that financial stability, community, strong relationships, and physical health depend on finding meaning at work. While we may consider these aspects separate from meaning, research suggests the opposite.
Myth 3: Meaningful Work Is Only Work That Pays Well
There’s far more to meaning than bringing home a paycheck. People cashing in large paychecks but who aren’t serving others or are compromising their personal values may struggle to find meaning at work.
You can find meaningful work if you’re contributing to something larger than yourself, independent of the paycheck size.
Myth 4: Meaningful Work Doesn’t Pay Well
One strong misconception about meaningful work is that it can only come from nonprofit work, which can be notoriously low-paying. In reality, as we’ve discussed, all jobs can derive meaning depending on the individual, including high-paying ones.
Myth 5: Finding Meaning Means A Career Change
If you don’t find your work meaningful, you may think a career overhaul is necessary. In reality, changing your thoughts, tasks, and relationships with others at work can impact the degree of meaning you derive.
If you’re struggling to find meaning at work, zoom out and identify what greater purpose you serve. You can also shift your day-to-day tasks to things that align with personal values and fuel professional growth. Lastly, consider building stronger relationships with coworkers and addressing any disagreements as they arise.
Meaningful Work Examples
We’ve said it before, and we’ll repeat it: any job can create meaning; it all depends on the individual.
Some ways people can derive meaning from various careers include:
- Garbage collector: keeping the earth free of litter
- Salesperson: connecting people with solutions that solve pain points
- Personal trainer: helping people improve their physical health
- Content creator: entertaining and informing the masses
- Product manager: identifying customer needs and filling them through product innovation
Company Culture and Meaningful Work
Sometimes, it’s tough to find meaning at work due to the company culture where you are. If your personal values don’t align with your company’s values, deriving meaning is challenging.
If you’ve done all you can do to find meaning where you are, it may be time to look elsewhere if those efforts failed. Jennings Executive has over two decades of combined experience matching employers with talent. We’ll find you the perfect company where you can find meaningful work. Learn more today!
Related: What Is An Empathetic Leader? Here’s Everything You Need to Know