Searching for more meaning in your job? The path may not be as elusive as you think. Feeling like your work is meaningful is one of the greatest predictors of job satisfaction. According to Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and the author of Why We Work, we want work that challenges and engages us, provides opportunities to learn and grow, and allows us some amount of autonomy and respect. “Most of all, we want work that is meaningful — that makes a difference to other people and thus ennobles us in at least some small way.” Talking with a career coach can help you determine if the time is right to explore a new career path — or if you might be able to discover greater meaning in your current line of work.
How to Add Meaning to Your Work: 4 Career Coach Insights
Certain occupations (e.g., clergy and surgeons) rank high on the list of most meaningful jobs because they are naturally associated with making a positive impact. But meaningful work is, by no means, limited to these jobs. Following are 4 career coach strategies to infuse more meaning into any type of work:
- Morph meaning into your job — As Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take, found, a sense of purpose can be shaped by the person in just about any job. Using a concept known as “job-crafting,” you might be able to redefine and/or expand your job to incorporate your strengths, motives and passions, while still attending to your core responsibilities. Job-crafting can be task (what you do), relational (with whom you interact) or cognitive (how you perceive what you do) in scope, depending on the amount of flexibility in the position.
- Make it personal — Grant found that the belief that their job had a positive impact on others was the single strongest predictor of meaningfulness. In a well-known experiment, he studied a group of university fundraisers. By introducing them to a single student whose scholarship was funded by their efforts, they increased their weekly revenue by over 400%. Many people don’t have the opportunity to have a face-to-face interaction with the people who ultimately benefit from the work they do. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist — or that your work doesn’t truly make a difference in their lives. If your company is unable to facilitate some sort of interaction with your end user — via social media, email or phone — you might have to pause to reflect upon the real-world benefits your work brings to people.
- Grab the reins — Having at least some amount of self-efficacy and/or autonomy has been linked to a greater sense of meaning on the job. Even if you’re not your own boss, are there ways for you to be more innovative in the way you approach your job? Are there ways to increase your impact — perhaps by offering to get involved in more projects? Are there opportunities to volunteer at company-sponsored events? The more you feel like what you do makes a difference, the greater meaning your job will have.
- Be authentic — Meaningful work is very individualized. Aligning your work with your interests, values and identity is a key factor in making work meaningful to you. Research has shown a positive correlation between authenticity at work, wellbeing and meaningfulness at work. Whether you find authenticity in big-picture ways (i.e., corporate mission) or in smaller places (you have the flexibility to choose your own clients), perhaps it’s right under your nose. If not, a career coach can help you decide if it’s time to make a move.
Have you found an innovative way to add meaning to your work?