Work. It wakes us in the middle of the night, it consumes a majority of our days, and yet we rely on it to provide for the actual life we want to lead. Given its significance and presence in your life, it’s sad to experience work as empty or, worse, dreadful — sapping energy from your soul.
But so many workers do. According to a 2015 Gallup survey, less than a third of employees are fully engaged in their jobs.
The study also found that it doesn’t matter how big your paycheck is — money alone isn’t always a sustainable motivational driver. And it doesn’t matter what your title is — a label often has no connection to meaning or motivation. So, how is it that some people can be extremely well-paid and work in pampered settings but feel disengaged, while others can work in far less than ideal situations and feel fulfilled?
Finding meaning in our work
According to Karen Carlucci, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in New York City, it’s all about meaning.
“Meaning is what gives us drive, and people often find meaning in their work when they experience being needed and appreciated,” she said. “This fosters a sense of purpose which can develop in any job within any work environment. The job itself is not as important as the rapport with the boss and co-workers and how one’s work is received. Once a sense of purpose is established, motivation to commit to a job and do it well will follow.”
How can you find meaning in your job and work more happily on a consistent basis? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Seek out meaning
Identify what you are passionate about. Figuring out what you care about will give you direction and a feeling of purpose. Jennifer Way, CEO of Way Solutions, an HR consulting and career management company, recommends asking yourself these questions:
- What initially attracted you to the role?
Refocusing on what initially interested you about the role can help reframe any negativity you might have about your position.
- How are you a key contributor?
What gifts and talents are you utilizing in your current role? What value do you bring to your role? Focusing on the contribution you’re making can help you feel a connection to the “greater good.”
- Are there projects at work that interest you?
Is there a project coming up that you might be interested in being a part of? This can challenge you to think outside your current role, spark your imagination, and introduce you to other co-workers that you don’t typically interact with.
2. Build out relationships
According to Gallup, people who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. But no pressure for this person to be a best friend: Gallup found that people who simply have a good friend in the workplace are more likely to be satisfied.
If you’re looking to find more meaning in your job, schedule some time to work on building relationships — even if it’s just 30 minutes a week.
3. Look outside
If a work bestie doesn’t seem to be an option, you can always look outside your office walls.
“A sense of community professionally doesn’t have to be limited to the workplace,” Jennifer Way said. “Research professional networks outside of your workplace where you can connect with others in your profession. Are there people in your industry you’d be interested in having lunch or coffee with on a regular basis?”
4. Change your attitude
Having a good attitude at work is extremely powerful and can be a precursor to feeling happier in your role. While it’s often easier said than done (and easier for some roles than others), a good attitude is something that can come with practice and mindfulness. Consider working on your interpersonal skills — if you learn to consider others more thoughtfully, they will respond in a kind way and make your work more satisfying.
Work is about fulfillment, no matter the reason
Ask yourself: Do you love your job? Or do you dread Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (and perhaps even those hours before lunch on Friday)? If you want to find meaning in it, remember to look beyond the mundane tasks and focus on the end result that will bring you fulfillment — even if it’s just the paycheck.
“It is absolutely ok for someone to go to work just for the paycheck,” Carlucci said. “What finding meaning at work really comes down to is values. What are our must haves? What gets us out of bed in the morning day after day? What do we care about most? If the answer is money regardless of where and how we earn it, that’s fine. The important thing is to recognize our core values and honor them. That will lead us to a more aligned work life and yield the meaning to forge ahead.”