February 5, 2016
How to Find More Meaning at Work
Whether it’s in a traditional office, a work-from-home space or office share, most people spend almost a third of their week at work. And with smartphones constantly keeping us just one click away from work email inboxes, a lot of people spend even more time than that thinking about their job.
With so much of our life dedicated to our jobs, shouldn’t they be a focus of how we try to make a difference in this world?
A survey conducted by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman (authors of The M-Factor) found that meaning in the workplace is beyond important for most employees. More than 90 percent of millennials said being able to give back through their work was essential when deciding on a job.
Making a difference is key. According to the Kelly Global Workforce Index, many younger workers would take a lower-paying, harder or more banal job if it gave them a clear sense of meaning. However, a recent Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans either hate their job or are not engaged in their work. If you’re having a hard time finding meaning at work, you are not alone.
The challenge to find meaning in work dates back at least to the writing of Ecclesiastes. True meaning is important. And discovering the significance of those 40 hours we spend each week in the office can be fundamental to our sense of well-being.
Discovering the significance of those 40 hours we spend each week in the office can be fundamental to our sense of well-being.
Studies in leadership (which often curiously echo Scriptural values) can provide some insight into finding meaning in the workplace. Here are three suggestions that might just make a huge difference.
Discover Your Personal Meaning and Relate It To Your Job
Discovering what you are about is essential for finding any sense of significance. Kevin Cashman, author of Leadership from the Inside Out, asks a simple question: “What is your unique, meaningful contribution?” What is it that makes you different from everyone else?
Jesus was clear about His mission. As He took on the role of Savior, He formulated a clear sense of purpose: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus knew why He was on this earth. Follow His example and know what you are about.
With a bit of honesty, you can find your own mission with just a few questions. What one idea permeates your existence? What guides all that you do?
Relating your mission to your job is fundamental to finding meaning at work. If the job is only a means to financial stability, it may be time to find a job that relates to your purpose.
Understand Your Role In A Holistic Perspective
There is always some product or service ultimately linked to any job. Practically every role contributes to some good or service. That end product can actually be the answer to your meaning.
Consider the case of medical device manufacturer Medtronic. Workers man assembly lines, constructing tiny devices in a tedious environment. Long shifts and zero-error tolerance exacerbate the situation. Yet employees not only tend to stay at the company, they also find meaning and satisfaction in their work there.
Medtronic produces heart valves. Every employee knows he or she isn’t just making devices—they are saving human lives. It’s a job that matters.
Relating your personal mission to your job is fundamental to finding meaning at work.
Medtronic ensures that employees get the big picture. Every year, a party with the recipients of the heart valves provides an opportunity to know and see the actual lives saved.
This example—of seeing the outcomes of the workplace—is a great one to follow. If you want to know how your contribution changes the world, look at the faces your job touches. Meet the people you help and connect your job to that perspective.
Leadership expert Kathleen Patterson describes a servant leader as one who focuses on others, so that they “are the primary concern and the organizational concerns are secondary.” The servant leader uses moral love, humility, altruism, vision for the followers, trust and empowerment in order to serve others.
Not everyone is in a leadership position, but everyone does influence others. Choose to influence others through service. Jesus Himself wasn’t too good to serve, so we shouldn’t be too good, either.
Serving may not be the easiest road, but it could be the most filled with meaning. Dan Sanders (executive vice president of Sprouts Farmers Market and former CEO of United Supermarkets) concludes that any job, whether as a pilot for a national airline or as a clerk at a grocery store, is fulfilling when it is linked to service. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, serve others as serving Him, and some sense of meaning cannot evade you.
Enjoy the Ride
Many of us in corporate settings tend to value accomplishments—at times beyond anything else. We are achievers. We like to meet deadlines and exceed expectations. We become task-oriented. But if we only experience joy when we finish a job, according to Kevin Cashman, we have a problem with personal mastery.
After all, getting to the goal is not all that exists. Sometimes, the trip is just as great as the destination. If vacation was only composed of the arrival at a destination and getting back home, what rest would it give? Vacation is about the trip, and work can be the same, if we choose to find meaning in the process rather than just the product.
Finding meaning in the workplace isn’t easy, but it is probably among the most important things we can do. While there is no simple plan to seeing significance in the workplace, these points can give us a start: Relate your own purpose to your job. See the big picture. When all else fails, serve. Enjoy the ride. And remember, in the long run, it’s not really the job itself that matters.
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