Research shows that the meaning of work is very personal and individual. Something that matters to one person may not be relevant to another. What makes work meaningful to you probably depends on your upbringing, socioeconomic status and how you’ve learned to see the world.
The sense of the meaning of work does not result only from the work itself. It is you who give meaning to the work you do. The best illustration of this is the old tale of three hardworking bricklayers. When asked what he was doing, the first bricklayer replied, “I am putting one brick on top of another.” The other replied, “I’m making sixpence an hour.” The third bricklayer said, “I am building a cathedral – the house of God.”
Each of them saw sense in what he was doing, but only the last one gave his work a special meaning. If you want to find meaning in your work, try to look at what you do from a different perspective. We usually stop at what we do, and when looking for meaning, you have to look for a deeper answer to the question “why” you are doing what are you doing.
WHAT MAKES WORK LOSING SENSE
In 2010, Dr. Brent D. Rosso noticed in his research that the meaning of work increased motivation, commitment and job satisfaction. Additionally, people who saw meaning in their work had fewer absences and experienced lower stress levels.
What makes you doubt the sense of the work you are doing? After years of research, we already know that we have difficulty making sense when we lack autonomy, diversity and challenges at work. It is also difficult to see the meaning of work when we lack feedback on our work.
Motivation and commitment to work drop drastically when we do not see the relationship between the effort put into work and what we get in return. It is not about money – although money is important to some extent too. However, more important is the feeling that what you are doing is needed and appreciated by others.
DISCOVER THE PURPOSE OF WORK BY SEEING HOW YOU SEE YOUR WORK
Yale University professor and researcher Amy Wrzesniewski found that people perceive their work in three ways:
- You treat your work as a duty, and your salary is your reward. You work because you have to.
- You see your work as a career – you work for promotion and success.
- Your job is your calling – you work by using your strengths, contributing to the greater good.
People who see their job as a calling are more satisfied with their work and life. They are more committed to what they do and seem to be better performers no matter what they do.
WHAT IS THE KEY TO SEE THE SENSE OF WORK?
Seeing your job as a vocation surely fosters a sense of meaning at work. A key part of your calling is the belief that your work makes the world a better place. When you see the immediate consequences of your work for others, you see its greater sense.
It is also confirmed by research conducted on over 11,000 employees in various industries. These studies showed that people who saw meaning in their work also said that their work had a positive effect on others.
Helping others unfortunately has its drawbacks. It is the people who serve others that are most at risk of burnout. It’s not just about having more contact with different people and their problems. People who are willing to help often focus on whether others appreciate their efforts. If there is no positive feedback on the job, frustration arises.
Fortunately, other studies show that not only helping can significantly affect the sense of meaning in work. In studies conducted among doctors, it turned out that not only the care of patients was of the greatest importance to them. One-third of the doctors participating in the study said that other activities, such as examinations or administration, were of greatest importance to them.
Interestingly, the study showed that it was enough for doctors to spend at least 20% of their time on these activities to reduce the risk of burnout.
HOW LASTING IS THE SENSE OF WORK?
If you are wondering if your job makes sense, there is one more important thing to remember. Sense of purpose and purpose at work is short and rare – even among people who love their work. Researchers Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden interviewed 135 people in 10 different occupations. To their surprise, the sense of meaning was “unsustainable over a single working day, let alone a long time”.
The vision of feeling the meaning of work all day, every day is simply unattainable, even in the best professions. All you need to do is spend around 20% on meaningful activities to experience meaning, commitment and increased efficiency.
HOW TO REFIND THE PURPOSE OF WORK?
Not all works are designed to have a significant impact on people and the world. Even if you have a job where you influence others, there may be times when you stop seeing its meaning. What to do in that case?
In a situation where you feel your job is losing its meaning, you can go back to the job description and think about what can be changed. Amy Wrzesniewski calls it job modeling – job crafting. Job crafting is about adding, correcting, delegating or minimizing tasks and interactions to make your work more meaningful.
It’s not always possible to shift your role to make it more meaningful, but it’s worth at least a try. In job crafting, the most important thing is to realize that you give meaning and take responsibility for shaping your work.
MODELING A WORK TO GIVE IT SENSE
Job crafting can be applied in three ways.
- The first way is to change the tasks you do. It’s best to list all the tasks you do in your work. Select the ones you like best on the list and think about what to do so that you can do them more often. If there are tasks on the list that you hate, consider whether they could be delegated or at least minimized.
- The second way of modeling work involves changing relationships in the workplace. Relationships with co-workers can give you energy or it can drain you. It also works the other way around. By sharing your knowledge and inspiring others to act, you can make someone else see the meaning at work.-
- A third way to do job crafting is to change the way you think about your job. This is perhaps the most difficult task as it requires looking at work from a completely different perspective. Remember the old bricklayer story I mentioned at the beginning of this article? The third of the bricklayers is a great example of the fact that you can find a deeper meaning in every work.
You may consider your job as one that doesn’t improve people’s lives, but if it provides for your family, it makes sense.
WHEN YOU STILL DON’T FEEL THAT YOUR WORK MAKES SENSE
Job crafting can be a great job shaping tool so you will finally see the meaning of your job.
However, the idea of remodeling your job should come from you and not be imposed by your employer. Don’t fall into the trap: “I’ll give you a bad job and it’s up to you to do something good out of it”
If you don’t see meaning in your current job and can’t find a way to make it more meaningful, maybe it’s time to change it. If your job does not make you happy, does not allow you to support your family or goals that are important to you, it may not be the right job for you.