Finding Meaning on the Job Beyond the Job Itself

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When was the last time you felt that the work you were doing had meaning or was about more than just making money?

Have you ever done something that filled you so completely that you could work nonstop for hours without realizing it?

If you have, then you know what we mean by “meaning.”

What “meaning” on the job really is

Meaning is how we go from job, to career, to calling. It’s when you know that your work makes a difference that you care about personally.

Meaning is why we work beyond the obvious reason of getting a paycheck. It’s also critical because it’s the factor that sustains us during times of difficulty, stress, or challenge.

It helps us see past issues and focus on reasons we’re working in the first place. It’s where the heart really kicks in.

Zookeepers are an interesting example.

Researchers studying zookeepers found that they are uniquely engaged in their work (something any 4-year-old could have told you.). The most interesting part of the research centered on why the zookeepers were so engaged in what is by any standard a demanding occupation.

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The researchers discovered that while much of the work is decidedly unglamorous (cleaning up animal poop) and some is downright dangerous (working with injured or agitated animals), the zookeepers also felt their work had a greater purpose: Caring for every aspect of their jobs was engaging, their jobs as a whole engaged them deeply.

They not only brought their hearts and spirits to their work, they did something significant with their minds and hands because of their feelings. They created their own engagement.

Finding meaning at work

So many things create meaning for employees and help them become engaged in their jobs. While nowhere near complete, here is a small list of ways we’ve seen employees find meaning in their jobs and become engaged.

  • Mentoring younger employees;
  • Earning enough money to pay for their kids to be the first in their family to attend college;
  • Helping create products that clean the environment;
  • Preventing crime or abuse;
  • Improving people’s health;
  • Giving people a voice;
  • Assembling an awesome product;
  • Designing beautiful things;
  • Keeping people safe;
  • Rescuing or caring for wildlife or environment.

How do you find meaning at work? What other ways can you add to this list?

This originally appeared on the Engagement Magic blog.

Tracy Maylett is the Chief Executive Officer of DecisionWise, and co-author of the award-winning book, MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement and The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results published by Wiley & Sons. He is responsible for guiding the overall strategy of DecisionWise, as well as leading large-scale change efforts for clients throughout the globe. Tracy has a doctorate in Organization Change from Pepperdine University, an M.B.A. from Brigham Young University, and a B.A. in Education from Utah State University. He has also received certification as a Senior Professional of Human Resources (SPHR), as well as earning SHRM-SCP credentials.

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