Making Our Work Meaningful

How do we find meaning and value in our work?  Many Psychologists believe that discovering value in our work benefits us tremendously.  Finding meaning in our work increases our motivation, empowerment, career development, job performance, and job satisfaction.  Understanding that what we contribute has great value also decreases our absenteeism and stress levels.  This finding is important because our solutions transform beliefs, behavior and culture.

A report by Gallup Inc., titled “State of the American Workplace,” states that only 30% of the US workforce is engaged in its work.  The other 70% is either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.”  Gallup defines unengaged employees as those who are “checked out.”  Those people “put in time” without energy or passion.  Worse, actively disengaged employees may act our their unhappiness by taking up an excessive amount of their manager’s time.  They also look for ways to undermine their co-workers.  Some disengaged employees may steal from their employers and drive away customers.

There are numerous ways of assigning meaning to one’s work.  Michael G. Pratt, a professor of management at Boston College, relates the story of three bricklayers hard at work.  When asked what they are doing, one bricklayer responds, “putting one brick on top of another.”  The second replied, “I’m making $20 an hour.”  The third states proudly, “I’m making a cathedral – a house of God.”

“All of them have created meaning out of what they’ve done, but only the last person could say what he’s done is meaningful,” Pratt says.  “Meaningfulness is about the why, not just about the what.”

People are able to find significance in their job in a variety of ways.  Some may find meaning in being able to advance themselves and being the best they can be.  People with craftsmanship orientation take pride in performing their job well.  Those with a service orientation often find meaning in the ideology underlying their work.

An article in the 2012Journal of Career Assessmentwritten by Michael F. Steffer, contains a scale for assessing meaningfulness in one’s job.  Called “Work and Meaningful Inventory,” it measures three components:

  1. One’s feeling that one’s work has some purpose;
  2. The belief that one’s work feeds into the meaning one feels in life as a whole; and
  3. The belief that one’s job benefits a greater good.

Streger’s study found that believing that one’s work is meaningful correlates positively with life satisfaction.

Some jobs may be inherently more meaningful than others.  Steger argues that jobs that benefit others tend to be seen as meaningful.  In addition, “being able to use your strengths to really shine and make an impact seems to be a huge part of meaningful work”, Steger said.

Jane E. Dutton, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, emphasizes the role of cognitive restructuring to re-frame our jobs to create meaningfulness “The more you look for the benefits of what you&##8217;re doing the more it feeds you psychologically,” Dutton says.

In closing, engaged employees are most likely to create new products and services, attract new customers and drive innovation.

References

Weird, K. (2013).  More that job satisfaction.Monitor, 44,42-44