How to Make Your Work (any work!) More Meaningful
“Find your passion!” is a common refrain in the world of self-help and career mentorship. After all, don’t we all want to do work that connects with our soul and makes us feel good? Studies show that this is far more important than many people might realize.
“Myriad studies have substantiated the claim that American workers expect something deeper than a paycheck in return for their labors,”
reports the Harvard Business Review. (1) In fact, the amount you’re paid has little to do with job satisfaction, but over the last decade, Harvard reports that more and more employees have said that job meaningfulness was an expanding area of importance for them.
The university also notes that nine out of 10 people say they'd rather earn less money if that meant they could do work that they felt was more meaningful.
A collection of research published in the Frontiers in Psychology research journal backs this up. (2)
“A growing literature indicates that people are increasingly motivated to experience a sense of meaning in their work lives,” notes the journal.
“In Study 1, participants reported lower minimum acceptable salaries when comparing jobs that they considered to be personally meaningful with those that they considered to be meaningless. In Study 2, an experimental enhancement of a job’s apparent meaningfulness lowered the minimum acceptable salary that participants required for the position.”
“In two large-scale cross-national samples of full-time employees in 2005 and 2015, Study 3 found that participants who experienced more meaningful work lives were more likely to turn down higher-paying job offers elsewhere. The strength of this effect also increased significantly over this time period. Study 4 replicated these findings in an online sample, such that participants who reported having more meaningful work were less willing to leave their current jobs and organizations for higher paying opportunities.”
“These patterns of results remained significant when controlling for demographic factors and differences in job characteristics.”
What is this research telling us? Well, breaking the jargon down, you can see that:
People will lower their salary expectations if they find the work meaningful.
People will stay in a job longer, even if the pay is lower, if they find it meaningful.
People are less likely to quit and go to a higher paying job if their current job is meaningful.
Not only that, but meaningful work is also connected to a happy, well-balanced life.
“Work plays an important role in human life, with most working-age adults spending a large portion of their waking hours in work settings,”
reports the study. “Given the centrality of work, it is perhaps no surprise that workplace experiences can strongly influence a person’s well-being.”
But here’s the kicker: What if you don’t find your work meaningful?
The Reality of the Situation and How to Solve It
Everyone isn’t blessed with the lifestyle, budget, or training they might need for a job they’re truly passionate about. If you have kids or a lot of debt, you might not be able to accept that low-paying salary. If you have health issues, certain lines of work might not be an option. Depending on where you live, career opportunities might be limited.
Take hope in this fact: No matter what type of job you have, no matter how mundane it is, and no matter your budget or your lifestyle or your relationship status, people of all backgrounds and fields of work have found meaningful work.
It’s an option for anyone. What it comes down to is your mindset and how you choose to see the work you do.
For example, do you bag produce for customers at a grocery store? Work at a fast food joint? Do housekeeping at a hotel? Work in the trades, like electrical or plumbing or landscaping?
No matter how much you might find your work meaningless (and we’re not saying those types of jobs lack meaning, but rather people tend to glamorize other careers in their minds), there are opportunities to FIND meaning in any task. Maybe you can take joy in how you brighten the customers’ day with your positivity. Perhaps you can imagine the delight people find in the quality of your work, even if they never meet you. Maybe you can tap into the sense of the greater whole, and how what you’re doing will add to and contribute to the good of your neighborhood or city.
We can all cultivate a sense of meaning, fulfillment and contribution, simply by connecting the tasks that we do with the idea of making the lives of others better, more beautiful, more happy, more full of love and light and bliss.
The opportunities for meaningful work are all around us, and for many of us, it’s sitting right underneath our noses. By seeking ways to make any work task more meaningful, we can tap into the satisfaction, joy and peace of knowing that what we do has purpose versus simply going through the motions and doing mundane task after task after task.
Three Things to Do To Make ANY Work More Meaningful and Satisfying
Doing meaningful work, and cultivating a mindset that sees the meaning and purpose behind any type of work task, requires focus and intention. Here’s how to begin to manifest this in your own career, regardless of the field of work you’re in.
1. Be More Mindful
It’s easy to fall into the rut of “just doing the work.” We go through the motions, especially if it’s a task we do daily, without ever bringing our awareness and mindfulness to the task. Not only does this prevent us from seeing the meaning in our work, but it can actually make the task more negatively impactful on our satisfaction and contentment.
Instead, check in with yourself throughout your work day. As you do a specific task, practice mindfulness:
“What am I doing right now?”
“Why is this important?”
“What meaning does this task give me, or what meaning and benefit does it bring to my coworkers, my customers, the people around me, or my neighborhood/city/society in general?”
Do this often. Do this whenever you switch tasks. Do this regularly throughout the day. By practicing mindfulness and checking in with yourself as you work, you stop yourself from simply going through the motions, and you become an active, energetic participant in your actions and your thoughts.
2. Be Conscious of the Why
The Why is the purpose and drive behind everything you do. Ask yourself:
What type of person am I, and how does that make the world a better place?
What kind of work am I doing, and who does my work affect?
What big or small benefit does my work bring to those it affects?
For example, if you’re a housekeeper, you might think of yourself as generous and kind with an attention to detail. And because of your attention to detail, the next person who walks into that pristine, perfectly cleaned and arranged hotel room will take great delight, smile, and say “Ahhh, what a beautifully kept room.” You’ve sparked joy by being you and doing your work.
As you practice mindfulness, come back to your personal “why” and connect it with the tasks you find in front of you.
3. Visualize Your Impact
It’s very, very easy to “think” about how you’re contributing goodness and beauty to the world and those around you. But it’s when you truly FEEL it that you find the most meaning and satisfaction in your work.
This is where visualization - the mindfulness practice of seeing, feeling and immersing yourself into an imagined scenario - can help bring your thoughts down to your heart.
Imagine someone taking delight in what you’ve done. Imagine the positive impact, big or small, that you’ve had on their life. Now, imagine how they feel. And imagine yourself expanding with joy and love and gratitude for bringing that positivity to them in their own hearts.
The beauty is that you don’t need them to know what you’ve done. They might never know who tended that lush front lawn, or who arranged the pillows on their bed, or who changed the oil in their car, or who fixed the printer in the office.
By simply opening your heart to feeling the pleasure and joy that your work gives to others, you plant the seeds of meaning into your work, task by task by task.
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