What’s meaning? I don’t know – only you do. What’s meaning to me, probably isn’t the same to you and vice versa. However, what we can all agree on is that whatever guise or form meaning presents itself in, it’s pretty essential to hang on to and build on.

‘Meaningful work’ is one of those abstract concepts that we all assume we’ll happily stumble into after school. Life falls into place, and we all end up accepting our true calling and working our dream job for our dream pay packet. Right?

As time goes by, meaningful work becomes an increasingly elusive and sought-after concept. You might know a handful of people that can say they consistently do a job that has any meaning, but most of us have settled into something that pays the bills but might not necessarily nurture the soul.

Studies show that the happier we are at work, the more productive we’ll be. Can we insert meaning into this equation? Happiness is about seeing enjoyment, but meaningfulness is about connecting with and helping others.

What does it mean to be meaningful?

Understanding meaningful work can be difficult. Plenty of people aren’t sure of what constitutes meaningfulness in their life, but perhaps they’ve not been asking the right questions.

Take a look at an excerpt from a survey, made-up of interviews with 135 participants from 10 different industries, you’ll find a wide array of answers.

At a basic level, meaningful work and what it constitutes reflects you as a person.

  • Ask yourself a few searching questions. What do you like about yourself, what makes you stand out from others, what makes you happy, how are you perceived by others and what gives you negative thoughts? The answers to these questions can help you to assess who you are, which will help you to see meaning more clearly.
  • What ignites your passions? When you think of the driving forces in your life and the things that you hold dear, what are they and what do they look like? Are there things that make you bubble with anger – certain injustices and examples of unfairness that make you angry? Look at your world-view and try to deconstruct how and why you think the things that you do. We’re all a product of our experiences, so work out what some of the critical skills you’ve been through are and how they’ve shaped and molded your views.
  • Where do your strengths lie? What would you say were your critical skills and talents that you bring to a situation? What skills do you enjoy using the most and which skills would you like to acquire? Are your skills aligned with your financial lifestyle and goals? What makes up a quality life for you – is money important, how much money do you need to enjoy a good quality of life? What’s your version of a work/life balance and when do you feel most fulfilled?
  • Finally, think about what impact you want to have on the world. Is it essential for you to connect with the people you work with? Do you need to see tangible results every day at work or are you concerned with long-term progress?

How meaningful work affects your life

There is no one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to significant work, and it’s an incredibly personal endeavor. One of the critical aspects seems to be a bridging of personal and professional values – if you can bring elements of your values and principles into your work, then you can perform more meaningful work.

Building an authentic connection between your personal and professional life, in a healthy way, can enhance your experience because you’re not effectively ‘selling out’ on your ideas by performing work that compromises your ethics.

Acknowledging that meaningful work is episodic is crucial to your understanding of its place in your life too. Significant work isn’t a permanent constant in your life and working towards having moments of meaningfulness can be a more realistic than expecting it all the time.

Purpose-led Companies

Employees that feel as if they’re working at purpose-led companies are more engaged at work. And this engagement can lead to better results because people believe in the overall long-term goals, as opposed to working towards metrics they don’t necessarily agree with.

Having an overtly purpose-led company makes it easier to attract talent that agrees with the purpose too.

The purpose is about why a company does what it does. Steve Jobs wanted Apple to create beautifully designed products. Leaders that have a purpose that drives them throughout their career are more likely to be successful and inspire that in those around them.

A high current example is Tyler Gage, who is a co-founder of Runa, a fair trade tea company. He set up the company with the view of helping to protect the Amazon environment and empower the farmers supplying his ingredients to have a good quality of life.

This has always been the purpose. Now, it’s a multi-million dollar company, with products stocked in Whole Foods, Safeway, and Amazon.

Gage has never compromised on his purpose, and inevitably, it’s brought him meaningful work, as he is helping to protect the environment and workers who help produce the product.

Customers have bought into this ideal and others that work in the company are attracted by the ethos – creating purpose-driven employees and customers. When leaders engage in meaningful work and action, it inspires more purpose in employees.

And finding a job that has meaning and purpose is increasingly important to millennial job-seekers, so being a leader that can articulately communicate the purpose of your company is beneficial.

Final Thoughts

Look at meaning as an ever-changing and evolving concept that deserves your time and attention.

Taking regular time-outs to reflect on meaning and purpose helps you to reconnect with what’s important and help you find meaningful work or lead your company in a way that inspires meaning. Share your meaning and become an active agent of your purpose.