The quest for meaningful work is universal, and has sparked various trends like ‘quiet quitting,’ ‘hybrid working,’ and ‘start with why.’ With continued talent shortages, as a jobseeker, you may question how meaningful your own career is. In 2019 we initiated our research into this space and have continued with the 2023 data coming from over 5000 individuals, contributing to our understanding of meaningful work.
The research showed us that job satisfaction, career development, reduced work stress, and improved health and well-being are some of the positive outcomes associated with meaningful work. It’s also good for your bosses. Engaged employees who find meaning in their work demonstrate higher commitment, lower turnover rates, and increased organisational performance, even during challenging times. However, our initial research revealed some significant gaps in previous studies, which lacked consistency in defining and measuring meaningful work, often making generic assumptions about the importance of various factors.
Meaningful work can differ between individuals and evolves over time. For example, I might be tied to money as a factor of meaningful work but for you it may not be as important. Further, it may be important to me because I have a big mortgage I’m trying to pay down, but once I make a dent in it, the importance of money may become less influential.
This realisation prompted us to take a new approach. Meaningful work has emerged as a fundamental human need, with employment becoming a primary source of personal identity and significance in today’s society. The integrated approach recognises that meaningful work is a complex relationship between the individual, the job, the organisation, and the surrounding culture. Both psychological and sociological perspectives are essential in defining and evaluating meaningful work, as they shape individuals’ perceptions and values.
Understanding this interplay is crucial, especially in diverse workplaces, where people from different cultural backgrounds contribute unique perspectives. Different cultures and social systems assign varying values to work activities, significantly impacting the perception of meaningful work. For instance, during the pandemic, societies worldwide celebrated healthcare professionals, highlighting the increased value assigned to their work. Another example is how you view the role of being a stay-at-home parent. This can be quite different depending on whether you are male or female and how your society views those perceptions, even though everything else about the job – the child, the hours, the workplace etc are the same.
Recognising these diverse perspectives is crucial, especially in multicultural workplaces like Australia, where individuals from various cultural backgrounds contribute to the definition of meaningful work.
Our research identified four key factors that contribute to meaningful work: individual, job, organisation, and societal. Each factor encompasses various subsets, and their influence may vary from person to person and evolve over time. While there are no right or wrong answers, certain factors emerged as more popular. In Australia, through the pandemic, the top contributors to meaningful work were workplace safety, team collaboration and purpose.
However, what is a popular factor may not be true for you. It is crucial to periodically assess and adapt to evolving priorities and values. As you grow personally and professionally, your perception of meaningful work may shift.
Self-reflection will allow you to align your career with your beliefs, values, goals, expectations, and purpose. There are four steps you can take to enhance your connection to meaningful work:
In the pursuit of meaningful work, it is important to acknowledge that everyone’s career path is unique. The definition of meaningful work varies from person to person and encompasses different factors. By understanding the importance of meaningful work, you can navigate your career journey with a greater sense of purpose and fulfilment. Remember, your path to meaningful work is yours alone, and it is worth investing the time and effort to discover what truly matters to you.
Nina Mapson Bone, author of Meaningful Work: Unlock your unique path to career fulfilment, is a highly sought after speaker on the subjects of meaningful work, and talent attraction, retention and development.