The search and discovery of meaning in our lives, personally and professionally, is integral to our existence and in no place has this been better documented than in Viktor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search For Meaning. Finding meaning in our work is one of the most rewarding and important discoveries we can make both personally and professionally.
A 2016 survey conducted by Gallup revealed that only 34.1% of American workers are engaged in their work, 49.5% of workers are “not engaged”, and 16.5% are “actively disengaged”. Globally, this statistic is even more staggering with just 13% of employees worldwide engaged in their work. Workers who said they were “not engaged” are defined as workers who may have been once been engaged workers but have become disengaged perhaps due to lack of opportunities, growth, salary, lack of connection to their colleagues or the company as a whole. However, those who are “actively disengaged” are the most concerning since their unhappiness has widespread effects on colleagues and the workplace at large through their expression of discontent in their words, attitude, and actions. Their effects on workplace wellbeing can be vastly damaging.
The search for meaningful work
When it comes to finding meaningful work, it’s common to think that the work needs to be altruistic, such as working for a not-for-profit. However, it’s important to consider that what one person finds value and meaning in won’t be the same as the person next to him or her. For example, working for a charity because you think you should do something “noble” but that isn’t actually in accordance with your real values nor allows you to utilize your strengths won’t actually provide you with meaning. The most important component is finding work that is personally meaningful.
Research in positive psychology has shown that meaning doesn’t have to be one “world-changing-pursuit” but instead, we can find meaning in anything we do.
Discover your strengths and values
The first step in our quest for meaningful work is to know our individual values and individual strengths. We highly recommend taking one of the online values and strengths finder tests available. Think of your values and strengths as a compass which guides you to meaningful work.
Should I stay or should I go?
Once we discover our strengths and values, the next step is to ask ourselves if our current employment is in line with our values and allows us to utilize our strengths. Finding meaningful work, however, may not mean leaving your current employer. In fact, if we are able to find meaning in the activities that we do and seeing the purpose and function of our activities, we can find value and meaning. Once we connect emotionally to the activity we are doing, we’re able to find meaning. Utilizing your strengths, making decisions according to your values, and being able to see that what you do makes a difference are likely to led to the discovery of more meaningful work. In one of our earlier articles this year, we shared how to bring mindfulness to your day and make the ordinary extraordinary, perspective is everything.
The bottom line is we can either find meaningful work or find meaning in our current work.
Are you doing work that is personally meaningful to you? How are you finding meaning in what you do? We’d love to hear your stories about your search and discovery of meaningful work.