How can you make your job feel more meaningful?

If you are a GC, how can you support your team to find more fulfilment in their roles?

Vanessa Allen on 26/02/24

These questions are important as new technologies and changing attitudes affect the way we approach work. 

Vanessa offers some suggestions on what you can do to make your own job feel more meaningful, and how you can support your team. 

“Meaning is the new money” declared the Harvard Business Review in 2011. Since then, new technologies, changing attitudes and the pandemic have contributed to a seismic shift in working behaviours so that today, for many people, meaningful work trumps money.

Research by the coaching organisation BetterUp[i] showed that 9 out of 10 employees would take a lower salary for more meaningful work, and a McKinsey[ii] study found that a lack of meaningful work was a significant driver of employee attrition. In Axiom Law’s[iii] 2022 in-house counsel survey over one third of respondents found their work neither challenging nor engaging, and 89% were likely to look for a new position in the next one to two years. It is clear that in order to retain their staff, organisations must respond to their desire for more meaning and purpose.  But the responsibility does not lie entirely with employers.

Meaningful work is a subjective concept and it is possible to improve how you feel about your role.

In this article I suggest some things that you can do to enhance your own sense of meaning and engagement, and how you can support your team.  

1. Discover what makes work meaningful for you

Meaningful work is a person’s judgement that their work accomplishes something significant or worthwhile for them. Research[iv] has established that people tend to find meaning in one or more of four sources:

  • Being of service to others or making a difference.  
  • Feeling a sense of unity with others.
  • Realising their potential.
  • Being authentic and true to themselves. 

Most people draw meaning from all four sources and the balance between them is likely to change as we develop in our careers. The following questions may stimulate your thinking on each of these areas:

  • Being of service to others:  what opportunities do I have to help others in my organisation; does my work make a difference inside or outside my organisation; do I allow others to help and support me; what can I do to directly contribute to others?
  • Feeling a sense of unity with others: do I enjoy working with my colleagues; what do I do that encourages or discourages good teamwork; what helps or hinders good teamwork in my organisation?
  • Realising my potential:  to what extent can I apply my talents at work; do I get excited about what I create at work; do I regularly feel a sense of achievement; what do I long to achieve; what am I able to influence in my organisation; what would have to change so that I can be more influential?
  • Being authentic and true to myself: how does what I think is “right” relate to what others might think is “right” in my organisation; how do my personal values compare with my organisation’s values; how have I grown in this role; am I still learning or am I standing still; am I becoming more or less myself in this role?

2. Is the balance right for you?

When you have reflected on your sources of meaningful work, you may realise there are some areas that are negative or hardly feature, and others upon which you rely heavily. 

You may notice connections between the sources, for example being part of a cross functional group that successfully completes a project may give you a great sense of teamwork as well as personal achievement.

You may also notice that you are making trade-offs, for example you love what your organisation stands for but there are limited opportunities for career advancement. How does the overall balance make you feel?

Perhaps you are in a sweet spot right now – if so, take note of how the various factors interrelate. If, on the other hand, you feel a sense of dissatisfaction, try to pinpoint the causes so you can start to work on changing things for the better.  

3. Take control and adapt your role

Research suggests that the more a person understands their personal values and is self-directed, the more likely that person is to make choices that will lead to more meaningful work.[v]

So if you know where you lack meaning, take control and try to adapt your job to address the problem. For example, you could actively seek more varied work outside your usual day-to-day tasklist; organise workshops to engage more closely with different parts of the business; or get involved in projects that make a difference outside the organisation. “Jobcrafting” like this has been shown to increase engagement and work meaningfulness.

4. Help your team 

If you lead a team, consider how you can help your team members find more meaning in their work. Here are some ideas:

  • Show your team members how their work matters. Share the bigger picture with them so they understand how what they are doing contributes to the overall outcome.
  • Create a sense of community within your team by fostering personal connections and an atmosphere of trust. 
  • Empower your team and give them ownership over their work, as well as the opportunity to learn and develop.
  • Give time and space to your team members to talk about what makes work meaningful for them, and respect everyone’s different definitions.

Meaningful work makes people feel better and work better. It is a win win for individuals and organisations so it is worthwhile making time to reflect on how you can improve your own sense of meaning and support others to do so as well. 

[i] Workers Value Meaning at Work; New Research from BetterUp Shows Just How Much They’re Willing to Pay for It | BetterUp
[ii] How companies can turn the Great Resignation into the Great Attraction | McKinsey
[iii] 5 Tips to Rediscover Your Purpose as an In-House Legal Innovator  |
[iv] Lips-Wiersma, M., & Morris, L. (2018) The Map of Meaningful Work, | Routledge.
[v] Dik, B.J., Byrne, Z.S., & Steger, M.F. (2013) Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace, | APA. 

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