Is Meaning Overload at Work Possible?

Meaning can help you find the missing piece
Learn how to cultivate the appropriate amount of meaning at work!

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We have talked about the importance of meaning at work before. While it is generally a good thing at work, recent research shows you can have too much of it! It seems counter-intuitive. How could you have too much of something that is good for you? Just like you can overdo it on brussels sprouts or exercise, you can overdo it here too. Learn more about how to manage your meaning misfit below!

Meaning is Generally a Good Thing

First, it’s important to recognize that meaning is not a bad thing at work overall. It’s really important to connect employees to their purpose at work. Meaningful work can keep employees engaged. Being a part of something larger than yourself is key to ensuring that you feel your job is important and has value. So, when you provide a stronger link to purpose, your employees feel better about their work and are more likely to work harder at it.

Meaning has been liked to a variety of positive workplace outcomes beyond engagement as well. Stress decreases when employees have more meaningful jobs. Employees feel more committed to their organization as well. They also feel more empowered to take ownership of tasks. They are absent less frequently. Finally, they perform better. So, overall, meaning is a good thing in the workplace.

Meaning makes you feel connected
When you have a lot of meaning at work, you feel connected to others. Generally it’s a good thing!

Too Much Meaning?

Even though meaning is a good thing at work in general, researchers have recently determined that you can have too much at work. Basically, while you benefit from meaning in the long term, there may be individual days where you don’t want as much. For example, perhaps you have a job that requires you to care for others, such as being a nurse or doctor. While impacting others’ lives is motivating in the long run, you may have days where you just want to do something mindless.

When you experience a meaning misfit, you are more likely to get fatigued at work. This is because you wish for something less complex to do and instead have to perform more difficult tasks. When you are more fatigued, you’re less engaged at work. So, it’s important to have an appropriate amount of meaning each day, or you might become more tired and less engaged. When you want to have an easy, laid back day, it’s not good to feel like the work you’re doing is of particularly high value.

Meaning may be overwhelming at times!
The weight of finding meaning can be overwhelming sometimes. It’s ok to take a break!

Recommendations for Employees and Managers

First, if you’re an individual contributor it might be good to manage your work tasks with this in mind. If you come into work and feel like you aren’t searching for meaning, try to take on more administrative tasks that day if possible. Doing tasks that are high in meaning while you are motivated to do so, might allow you to do other less meaningful tasks later. If you don’t have that much control over your schedule, at least schedule for extra recovery time after work on days when you don’t want as much meaning. You might be able to replenish your energy that way!

If you’re a manager, you should keep in mind that your employees may not always want to be connected to meaning. So, allow people to have days where they are able to engage in more administrative tasks, if possible. Also, don’t judge employees if they are having a day in which meaning seems less important! While their jobs might be meaningful overall, it’s ok if they don’t seem particularly connected every single day. Being honest with yourself about this might also be key. If your employees see that you are not always engaged with meaningful tasks either, they might feel less guilty on days when they just want to take it easy.

What are your tips for managing meaning at work? If you work in a caregiving job, have you ever felt like you needed a break? How do you manage your meaning effectively? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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