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Mar 13, 2014

Does work need to be meaningful?

Many of us have resigned ourselves to the notion that work is something we do primarily to earn income. Those earnings then allow us to purchase goods and services we can use to improve our lives and the lives of those we love and want to help.

Increasingly, however, both employees and employers are being encouraged to see work in a whole new light — as something we do to gain productive experiences that become the basis of our happiness.

In her book The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here, Lynda Gratton, a professor at the London Business School, suggests we should be seeking work opportunities that help us grow, keep our knowledge fresh, and push the boundaries of what we can become.

But what exactly is a meaningful and productive experience in the context of work? And what can each of us do to achieve it?

These are crucial questions that few of us have asked ourselves, but Lynda pondered them through her Future of Work Research Consortium, whose members have defined what it takes to make meaningful work a reality.

1. Enjoyment

For work to be meaningful, it must be enjoyable. We achieve satisfaction and authenticity by being able to bring our “whole selves” to work and being known and understood as more than just our job title.

While it’s unrealistic to expect every single element of our work will be pleasurable, our enjoyment is increased the more frequently our work reflects our interests.

2. Socialization

The social aspect of work is also highly important when it comes to creating meaningfulness.

Organizations should place greater importance on the social connections people make at and through work, and extensive research in the field of neuroscience reveals the social aspect of work is crucial to building meaningfulness.

3. Autonomy

Another vital part of the meaningful work concept is being free to make more decisions about how, when, and where we work.

In order to provide opportunities for meaningful work, employers should celebrate the uniqueness and individuality of each of their employees and allow them to express this through their work at every possible opportunity.

4. Making a difference

The chance to make a difference — whether on an organizational level or in a wider social context — was also singled out as an important aspect of meaningful work.

People don’t usually prefer working in isolation. They want to be part of a bigger venture, preferably with a noble purpose.

Providing guidance on how employees’ roles impact the business and giving them time for volunteer work are effective ways of meeting this desire.

5. Meaningful leadership

It goes without saying that leaders set the tone when it comes to creating meaningful work, but few leaders are measured on their contribution to the meaningfulness of their work or the work of their teams.

When it comes to performance, evaluations are predominantly focused on bottom line results.

To ensure work really is meaningful, leaders need to have the courage to list it as one of their priorities — and then act on that priority.

This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.