Pursue meaningful work
Perception of work as meaningful is based on one’s own feeling of value and usefulness of their job, according to their own standards. It is connected with one’s own judgement and intrinsic motivation, rather than external pressure or evaluation from the society. 1/2 Work significant to others (bringing “the greater good”) and meaningful to oneself is linked with better mental health and well-being.3/4/5
A simple way to get an idea if we have meaningful work is to ask ourselves questions like:
“Have I found a meaningful career?,”
“Does my work contribute to my personal growth?,”
“Does my work make a positive difference in the world, benefit others, or serve a greater purpose?.”6/7
Ultimately, we decide if our work is meaningful to ourselves.
- Self-actualization: realizing or expressing one’s full potential or purpose through the job.
- Social impact: positive impact on others, serving others.
- Personal accomplishment feeling: developing one’s inner self.
- Career advancement: believing that one can achieve career goals in this job.
- Autonomy: when a person feels like their actions emanate from his or her self and reflect who they are.
- Relatedness to others: when one is well connected to others via caring relationships (belongs to a community).
- Beneficence for others: sensing that one does make a positive impact on others brings well-being.
- Felt competence: being efficient in his/her activities.
Perceiving one's work as improving the welfare of others helps to experience work as meaningful and valuable. Whether you work such a beneficial job or not, it is good also for you to try to find new ways to help others during your regular work routine.12/13/14/15 Satisfying needs of oneself and needs of others should be balanced; if it is not the case for a longer time, it may lead to loss of meaning of work.16
Perceiving one’s work as meaningful is associated with:
- Reporting fewer mental issues such as psychological distress, depression, hostility and anxiety.17/18/19/20
- Protection against burnout and mental health problems.21/22
- Lower levels of depression, for lower levels of stress and anxiety.23
- Fewer negative effects of work stress in forms of unhealthy behaviors (such as poor diet, tobacco and alcohol use).24
Tips and recommendations
- Look for self-actualization: find and activate your purpose, values and goals. Try to remember what gives you passion, what makes you feel alive, or talk with your friend about what matters to you in life and career.
- Try to find a good balance between working for others and working for yourself. If you are working “a grater-good job” but you lack satisfaction from your work, it might be connected with your stress level or even anxiety. Try to find a good balance between working for others and working for yourself. Your work should also satisfy you!
- Check if your job or tasks have social impact and bring something beneficial to others. Or consider what other social impact do you wish to make? Are there any new ways how you can do it through your work?
- During your regular work routine, try finding new ways how to help others even in a small way. People who help others many times in a day experience greater gains in work meaningfulness over time.27
- Does your job feel like you do or can accomplish something significant? If not yet, can you find a way to get your personal accomplish.
- Check if your career goals are connected to, or can directly be achieved in your work. If not, how else can you get closer to them?
- It is a good idea to look for a job where you can experience meaningfulness and engagement (probably they will be connected). Probably you will be in the right place there, doing the job well and being happy at the same time.
- Do what you are good at. Feeling competent and mastering your field brings meaning to what you do.
- Feeling like being part of a community and good relationships with your co-workers can enhance meaningfulness you will sense in doing your work.
- If you work part-time, consider going full-time if you have good conditions for it. Those working part-time jobs apparently might find less meaning in their work than full-timers.28
- See if your organization serves the society well and is in line with your own values. If you feel like it isn’t really the case, you may support extra activities in your organization such as volunteering with your team for a good cause, or starting internal program for employee development in the company.
- If you work for a company which is really not congruent with your values and your idea of worthy work (e.g. a tobacco company or an alcohol producer while you don’t support smoking and alcohol drinking), you may want to pursue a career somewhere else to get to a more meaningful working experience. It may still be in the same profession though.
Other evidence-based practices
- Maintain work-life balance.
- Build healthy relationships with co-workers.
- Learn time management skills.