Raindrum Luxury Rehab, a leading facility offering specialised programs for mental health and addiction recovery. Discover how our individually tailored rehab programs provide comprehensive support and healing

How to find meaning – and wellness – at work

Even if you have a seven-figure salary, exercising, eating an organic diet, or any other of the myriad of things we do to promote “wellness” won’t fix having a job we think lacks meaning or purpose.

Increasingly, feeling valued, or valuable, in what you do for a living is considered a factor in eudemonic wellbeing – wellness positively impacted by having a sense of meaning and purpose.

Keynote speaker Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, believes there is a spiritual renaissance taking place in the business world today. And that renaissance has only been sped up by the coronavirus pandemic.

With job security a thing of the past, and a new appreciation of the value of home, family and downtime, the deeper meaning of work has become even more important.

It is only by aligning ourselves with a moral compass that we can progress to a direction that will take us into the next century, says Covey.

Says CEO and Ted talker Edwin Trevor-Roberts, whose career management firm has been studying meaning at work: “We ultimately see a world where work enriches lives, people feel connected and aligned to their organisation, and know that they are contributing to something greater than themselves.”

While Baby Boomers may have long ago learnt to live with a career that fails to inspire completely, upcoming Generation X and millennials have a primary need to be aligned with a purpose they see as benefitting the environment, others, or the world.

And, in a post-Covid world, we all seek to do something that matters with our lives.

What kills meaning and joy

No matter what your age, or experience, career malaise with all its stress and disillusionment can undermine your efforts to achieve happiness and wellbeing. And it’s more prevalent than you may imagine.

In Gallup’s 2021,142-country study on the State of the Global Workforce, only 15 percent of employees reported they felt engaged at work.

Another study study by IT services company ServiceNow across employees of all ages found 58 percent wished their work was more meaningful, and more than a third felt they were wasting their time.

Creating a superior employee experience requires intentional effort, says David Oakley, Vice President and Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand, of ServiceNow.

“Work is no longer just a means to a pay packet at the end,”

“People care more about the impact their work is having.”

The survey found particular challenges that sucked the joy and meaning out of work included dealing with IT or a complex HR process.

Now, with many of employees working remotely, making sure technology is up to the task should have a high priority.

So too should checking in with staff in a genuine way, that involves listening and responding to concerns or challenges that require managerial input, in a timely and respectful way.

A dissatisfaction with how your company operates in the world and in the workroom, as well as how satisfying your staff and client relationships are, can sap meaning and joy, says Trevor Roberts.

Feeling happy and valuable

So here’s the question many of us have been asking since we discovered telecommuting.

If you’re disillusioned with your work, do you have to change jobs to find meaning and wellbeing, or can you redesign what you do, how you do it, or how you look at it?

“The first thing you need to feel that what you do is valuable is a sense of control in some way,”

Powerless, or lack of control, is considered a broad-based risk factor for disease.

“The second thing you need is to be able to use a skill you feel good at. And the third is a sense of connectness to others.”

If you have a boss who micro-manages, even from a distance, you may never reach the place where you feel your work is meaningful, even if you are employed by a not-for-profit or charity dedicated to doing good.

Similarly, lacking competence in an area of work you are asked to manage can decrease eudemonic meaning, says Trevor-Roberts, mainly because of stress.

A sense of connectedness is complex. Perhaps you relate well to clients, colleagues or management with positive interactions boosting well-being. Or maybe you experience more negative interactions such as unreasonable demands, complaints, or back-stabbing that is stressful enough to result in stress or sick leave.    

If you feel like a square peg in a round hole, you may have to seriously ask yourself “who are my people?”

Are you a doctor who would rather be an artist, or an artist who would prefer to be saving the planet? Of course, sometimes increasing eudemonic meaning involves drastic changes in salary expectations.

Changing outlooks

In a report on What Is Work, in the Deloitte Review, the authors suggest a redefining of work that shifts all workers’ time, effort, and attention from executing routine, tightly defined tasks to identifying and addressing unseen problems and opportunities that would, ultimately, expand value for companies, customers and workers.

This new way of working would promote curiosity, imagination, intuition, creativity, empathy and emotional and social intelligence, they say.

While we wait for such an idyllic career environment, changing how we view or tackle tasks can pay well-being benefits.  

For example, we lose a lot of meaning in work because our minds constantly creating possible dramas.

“Mindfulness, then, may be a critical piece in the wellbeing equation and we do see more and more of that coming into corporate life.”

The hardest, and perhaps the key, question we all need to ask in the search for meaning, however, is ‘who do I serve’.

A 2010 study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when we choose to help others, it meets our needs in all three areas we need for meaning – autonomy, competence and relatedness.

It turns out that doing good is one of the most important factors in feeling good.

Reshape your workplace

Post-pandemic, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape our workplaces, says specialist speaker, facilitator and leadership expert Michelle Bihary.

“In a thriving ecosystem where employees feel valued, teams perform at their peak cognitively and psychologically,” she says. “The impact can be exceptionally positive as it unleashes the potential of the workforce.”

Understand how interpersonal relationships and behaviours influence and shape the workplace environment, she says.

1.      Lead yourself

Cultivate self-leadership of your employees with evidence-based strategies to build relationships that engage, inspire, build on strengths and create openness to learning and development.

2.      Lead others

Optimise leadership of your employees with evidence-based strategies and create openness in learning and development.

3.      Lead your team

Build a thriving ecosystem, not a toxic ego system, through optimising protective factors and reducing risk factors in ways that create a psychologically safe and thriving team.

Credit: Leading Above The Line: Applying neuroscience to build psychologically safe and thriving teams, by Michelle Bihary.

More insights