What Makes Meaningful Work?

happy employee with meaningful work
Finding meaning at work can make a big difference in your wellness. But what makes a job meaningful?

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We spend such a huge part of our lives at work. And, we know that finding passion and meaning at work can make your job so much better. Meaningful work is defined as a person’s experience and belief that their work is existentially significant and valuable. Today, we dig into this topic a bit further, looking at some new research on what makes work meaningful!

Why This Matters

Let’s breakdown why finding meaning can be important. First and foremost, employees who find their work meaningful have higher job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and general health! Thus, it’s important for your overall happiness and well-being. This makes some intuitive sense. When people feel purpose in their life and in their work, they feel better about how their life is going. We all want to feel important and like we are making an impact. In addition, these employees are more productive, more engaged, more committed to their companies, and less likely to leave their jobs. When employees are doing work they find valuable, they feel compelled and driven to continue to do it and do it well.

In sum, employees that find meaning in their work generally feel better and work better. And it’s not only positive for employees. Having more committed, engaged, and higher performing employees is obviously good for the organization and their overall productivity. Thus, organizations and leaders should focus on making work more meaningful for their team members.

Employees that find meaning in their work are happier and healthier!

How to Make Work More Meaningful

Given all these positives, how can leaders make work more meaningful? Lucky for us, new research can give us some guidance. As humans, we all have some basic psychological needs. We’ve talked about some of them before. There’s this theory called Self-Determination Theory that has received a lot of support in the research. It basically says that everyone wants autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In other words, we all want to feel like we have some control over our work and our lives, we want to feel like we are good at something, and we want to be connected to others.

A fourth need has been identified and lumped into this trio more recently – beneficence. Beneficence is the feeling of making a positive impact on other people’s lives. Thus, in addition to the basic three, humans want to feel like they make a difference. You can clearly see how this might relate to meaningful work.

So what does the research say about these needs and meaningful work? Well, basically, we have learned that autonomy and beneficence are the biggest predictors of finding meaning at work. In other words, employees that feel like they have control over their work and feel like they are making a positive impact are the employees that find their work meaningful.

And, the good news here is that leaders and organizations can influence autonomy and beneficence in their employees! To increase autonomy, give your employees more freedom and decision making power. Allow them to decide how to do the work themselves. To increase beneficence, encourage employees to interact with the beneficiaries of their work. Bring customers in to share their stories. Explain the impact of their work.

And, finally, if you are an employee, this is just your friendly reminder to try to find work that you find meaningful and valuable! It’ll make you healthier and happier!

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