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