Meaning at work is important in the best of times. It’s a key ingredient for growth for businesses and it helps us focus our energy. It also boosts our capacity to make the greatest impact in the work we do and to connect with other people. We feel energised, motivated and expanded when we have a sense of purpose. According to Yale School of Management researcher Amy Wrzesniewski, people who consider their work to be a calling – in other words, they feel their work has meaning – tend to be more satisfied than those who think of their work as ‘just’ a job. A study by Deloitte, focused on the issue of meaning in the workplace, recently found that 87% of employees attach importance to having purpose at work.
Right now, however, meaning has been taken to whole new level.
Anxiety over the coronavirus, concerns around the economy and more have destabilised not only the world of work, but the world at large. Establishing your ‘why’ on the job is arguably more important than ever.
Of course, with so many people out of work right now, questioning whether your work brings you meaning can feel like a luxury. But delving into these questions can help in making sense of your current situation and finding the next opportunity.
There’s no one way to define ‘meaning’. For some people it’s rooted in giving back to the community. For others, it’s a matter of personal fulfilment. With some, a clear financial upside to their work gives meaning; for others, it might be in their work relationships or participating in innovation.
Here are three questions to help you and your team reflect on the significance and meaning of your work.
Are you having an impact?
While impact means different things to different people, at root it comes down to something fairly simple. Are your actions having a multiplying effect – on the business, on other people, on the world? Are you empowering individuals and groups to do more than they could without you?
Are you smarter than yesterday?
College, advanced degrees, training diplomas – those kinds of learning are obviously important for building a career. But when it comes to finding meaning at work, the kind of learning we are talking about is a little more immediate. It’s asking if you are a little wiser at day’s end than you were at the beginning. We, as humans, are curious by nature. Learning something new is invigorating, while going through the same routine, day after day, just isn’t. The more you learn, the more engaged you are in your career, boosting individual skills and fulfilment and building business competitiveness.
Are you having fun?
Work isn’t always fun. Companies that portray jobs as one continuous happy hour are either good at marketing or fooling themselves. But moments of joy – not just satisfaction, but real joy – are absolutely critical. To be clear, we’re not talking about the work-hard/play-hard type of fun, although that has its place too. Rather, it’s a feeling of delight and optimism around your job. And while its forms may vary, the research on the value of fun doesn’t: it’s key to employee health, creativity, productivity and engagement.
Using these questions in the real world
We don’t believe you have to answer yes to all three of these questions all of the time (though that would be great). But if you can’t answer yes to most of the questions, most of the time, finding real meaning in your work can be a struggle.
What do you do in those situations? Sometimes it’s about switching up the nature of a role – moving to different projects, engaging with different colleagues. And sometimes, you just have to be honest with yourself and look for the next opportunity.
Ultimately, one antidote to the uncertainty in the world right now can be assessing the value you are bringing to your company, colleagues, customers, community and yourself. 2020 has invited us all to do some deeper soul searching and demand more from our work – for all the challenges this year has brought, that’s one unexpected upside.
Adapted from Entrepreneur Europe