A recent study showed that having a job you hate is one of the worst things you can do to your mental health – so bad that being unemployed is actually better for your psyche.
Having work that you find meaningful, on the other hand, makes a great difference.
How can we find work that is meaningful? Or perhaps another question would be: how do we make our work more meaningful?
The answer to both of these questions is dependent a couple things and researchers have long been looking at what makes work meaningful.
Brent D. Rosso, University of Michigan, Kathryn H. Dekas from Google Inc. and Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale University reviewed literature on meaning in work and found seven mechanisms that make this happen.
There are researchers who support the idea that authenticity is must be supported in meaningful work. Authenticity is described as the driving force or motivation that helps individuals gain and maintain meaning in their lives. Work experiences that encourage this authenticity allow us to remain true to our beliefs, values, and identities while working. Authenticity at work can be achieved if our work affirms our identity or it is so engaging that we feel completely immersed and alive while working.
Some scholars suggest that another aspect is self efficacy, which is the belief that we have the power and ability to make a difference or to have an impact/affect. Knowing that we can have an impact, hopefully good, in our work environment is important to for our work to be meaningful to us. When we feel that the work we do matters, then we feel like we matter.
Self-esteem is also on the list. Scholars that support the idea that self-esteem is needed for meaningful work argue that a meaningful job will increase our sense of self worth. When we do a great job at work, or succeed at a completing a projects, others see us as being valued. That is a definite boost to one’s self esteem.
There are researchers who argue that work that is meaningful brings purpose in one’s life. In this perspective, our work gives us a sense of direction and intention which can be a powerful motivation for staying late. Research suggests that purpose in work can move us closer to our life goals.
Social connections and relationships have been offered as a needed element for meaningful work. Having positive and quality relationships with co-workers can help immensely, especially when they share our values, beliefs and even social identity.
Transcendence comes out the research from the humanistic psychology perspective of Maslow, Frankl and Weiss. Transcendence is when one experiences work as something greater than them. Here meaning in work may be achieved when we feel that the work we do will have an impact on the larger society and not just on our pocketbooks.
Cultural and interpersonal sensemaking
A lesser known perspective is the impact of culture and community in this area. Meaning of work may be tied to the community and cultural that we are a part of. What is meaningful work in one cultural group may not be so for another. The work that is valued in one’s own cultural or community may have an impact on what you believe is meaningful work. Being an artist in one community may not be looked upon as being meaningful in another.
Having a job that has one or all of these elements may sound utopian, but it really shouldn’t be. Rosso, Dekas and Wrzesniewski present a synthesis of current research in the area of meaning of work that pulls together the latest research to gain a greater understanding of meaning in work. Our jobs may not have all of these elements but it is good to consider what would make work meaningful for us.
The authors of this research paper suggest that we as individuals must decide if our work is meaningful. Looking at each of the seven mechanisms discussed earlier, we can discover which one may be most important to our own search for meaningful work.
Ultimately, it may not be so much the type of work one does but how they experience and live with their work.
— Makenna Berry