The importance of meaningful work

People find meaning in different things, which means answering the question of what makes work meaningful, is near impossible. Some find meaning in financial rewards, others in focused work, some in finding innovative solutions, and others still in building relationships. The answer depends solely on what drives you as a person.

Employees who place greater value on meaningful work are inclined to occupy more senior and skilled positions, and to stay in these positions for longer. The gains in worker productivity from meaningful work have a significantly positive impact on a company’s bottom line.

Creating more meaning in the workplace is no longer a luxury, it is mission-critical for companies who wish to survive. Meaningful work should be a priority, not only for the mental wellbeing of employees, but because happy, motivated, healthy employees work harder, which in turn generates more revenue for their companies. 

The current pandemic has been a powerful wake-up call, that has seen many people re-evaluate their priorities. Times like these help us reflect on how work affects our mental health and our wellbeing in general. We spend a significant amount of time at work throughout our lives, which means that it needs to serve as more than a place to simply make money, it must also be an environment in which we can grow and thrive as people. We need to feel an authentic connection between the work we do and a purpose outside ourselves. It’s not just what we do that matters, it’s who we are when we do it that does.

Finding or creating meaningful work has resulted in numerous studies from the world’s most prominent research institutions and is driving significant change at modern companies in their attempt to attract and hold top talent.

The internet freed work from the office and allowed us to bring it home. The 40-hour workweek seized to exist, replaced instead by a 50- and 60-hour one. While work increases, salaries remain unchanged, people are taking fewer holidays, and many are working well past the intended retirement age. It is thus no wonder that people are seeking more meaning at work.

How can you create meaning in work?

Success looks different today. A few decades ago, a job was simply a job – a means to an end. As we transitioned to the knowledge economy, a new kind of work has come to the forefront, and that is meaningful work.

According to recent data from US-based Management Consulting company Gallup, 80% of graduates feel that a sense of purpose is either very or extremely important to their work. The study, Forging Pathways to Purposeful Work, found that work is the most likely source of purpose for Millennials.

The study further found that graduates who find meaning in their work are ten times more likely to have good general wellbeing.

Decades of Gallup’s research has shown that wellbeing is not static—it is intensely personal, changes over time and according to life experiences, and develops with the culture. This shows that there is a tangible correlation between meaningful work and overall wellbeing.

Workers with profound emotional and intellectual connections to their work deliver numerous benefits that extend beyond themselves to their work and their organization, such as improvements in productivity and profitability.

Can companies create meaningful work?

The 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report found that most employees feel that the companies they work for do not effectively create meaningful work, and nearly one-quarter of companies do not know what their employees value.

The modern office, in an attempt to make itself attractive to Millennials, is chockablock with “perks” such as free lunches and chill rooms, but these rewards are all superficial and do not equate to meaningful work. Research shows that employees are looking for impact and purpose in their work – not bean bags and free snacks.

Ultimately, finding meaning in their work and career is the responsibility of the employee. Meaningful work provides a sense of being valued, of belonging, of having an impact, but if you ask a hundred people what that looks like, you’ll get a hundred different answers. If you don’t know what it is that you do and don’t like about your work, your employers won’t be able to help you. When you look at people who have meaning in their work, you’ll notice that they didn’t find it there, they created it.