8 Ways to Find More Meaning at Work

It is sad to walk through life and experience work as empty, dreadful, a chore, sapping energy out of your body and soul, yet many employees do. Studies show that only 31% of employees feel engaged at work. Different people look for different types of meanings at work and different workplaces provide different meanings.

The phrase “meaning at work” refers to a person’s experience of something meaningful and something of value that work provides. That is not the same as “meaningful work”, which refers to the task itself.

Work is a social arena that provides a variety of meaningful experiences; even if an employee doesn’t find her tasks to be especially fulfilling, she might derive meaning from other aspects of her job, such as friendships with colleagues.
So, what are the sources of meaningful experiences at work?

We have compiled a list of ways that work can become more meaningful, based on our behaviour and psychology. Ask yourself, which of these are important to you? And which does your current workplace provide for you?

1. Purpose. Helping people in need, clearly has a greater purpose than other types of work. This taps into a longing to have a meaningful life defined as making contributions beyond oneself. The problem, however, is that most work doesn’t have such a higher purpose, either because work is basically mundane or because, let’s face it, the company doesn’t really have a social mission.

Companies may claim that much of their work can be infused with some level of purpose. For example, if a company defines their yogurt business as “providing healthy food”, employees may experience their work to make positive contributions to others. Then they experience meaning at work.

2. Self-realisation. Many graduates flock to companies who offer internships so that they can rapidly acquire valuable skills. Work offers opportunities to learn and improve self-awareness. This kind of personal growth is meaningful.

3. Accomplishment. Work is a place to accomplish things and be recognised, which leads to greater satisfaction, confidence, and self-worth. Your quest for improvement gives life a deep sense of meaning and once accomplished, a deep sense of satisfaction.

4. Prestige. At parties, a frequent question is, “Where do you work?”. The ability to rattle off a name of a global company, oozes status. For some, that moment is worth all the gruelling nightshifts. A high-status organisation confers respect, recognition, and a sense of worth on employees, and that provides meaning at work for some.

5. Power. For those drawn to power, work provides an arena for acquiring and exercising power. You may not be one of those, but if you are, you experience work as meaningful because you have and can use power which you have acquired, within your job role.

6. Belonging to a community. Companies can go out of their way to create an atmosphere where people feel they belong. In a society where people increasingly are bowling alone, people crave a place where they can forge friendships and experience a sense of community. The workplace can complement or even be a substitute for other communities (family, friends, social clubs etc.). Workplaces that provide a sense of community give people meaning.

7. Involvement. Employees experience meaning at work when what they do actually matters for the organisation, when their ideas are listened to and when they see that their contribution has an impact on how the company performs. A sense of real involvement gives people meaning.

8. Autonomy. Autonomy is a great intrinsic motivator. Some people are drawn to certain kinds of work that provides a great deal of autonomy, the absence of others who tell you what to do, and the freedom to do your own work and master your task. For example, entrepreneurs frequently go into business by themselves so that they can be their own boss. This kind of freedom gives work meaning.

Experiencing at least one of the above, may be enough. But if you don’t, you may want to start concentrating on one to develop, to find that meaning you are looking for.