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Don't Look for Meaning - Build It

Satisfied worker with shovel

To find meaning in seemingly joyless work can be a daunting task. Feeling stuck in a rut, and finding the time spent at work a chore instead of a challenge, we may become unfocused, demotivated and even bitter towards our colleagues and managers. Considering that a full-time employee spends 21-35% of their entire life at work, lacking meaning can have a powerful effect on our physical and mental wellbeing.

It turns out, though, that we can do a lot to prevent feelings of demotivation, helplessness and being stuck – even in a job that superficially might seem a “dead end”. We can consciously choose to infuse our work with meaning and purpose. Job crafting (a term coined by Amy Wrzesniewski and colleagues) refers to the active changes one makes in their job in order to make it a more positive experience. Employers hire into positions on the basis of a “good fit”, but they cannot know what is an optimal fit between job design and employee; every person is different and must make that fine-tuning for themselves. Creating meaningful work is a therefore not a one-time effort but a mindset and a process.

Even if you already enjoy your work (and I hope you do!) try these five aspects of job crafting for yourself:

Connect work with service: everyone's work is ultimately of benefit to others, even if it is not always as obvious as the work of a nurse, teacher or carer. By placing your role in a larger context, then instead of a proverbial “cog in the machine” you become a link in a vital chain.

Craft your work: regard your work as not merely a matter of getting it done, but getting it done better. Focus on the skills needed and perfecting those. Get creative about better ways of working.

Invest in positive relationships: we are social animals - take time to reflect on your colleagues and understand them. The stronger your bonds with you fellow workers, the greater your sense of purpose will be as their success becomes yours (and vice versa).

Face and overcome challenges: do not underestimate your resilience! Learning from setbacks and turning failure into success can engender great feelings of achievement and satisfaction.

Remember why you work: we all have reasons to work, even if they are sometimes prosaic (paying the bills) or frivolous (treating ourselves with a new outfit or a holiday). It's ok for work to be a means to an end sometimes. When performing a tedious task, just think “hey, I can do this with my eyes closed – and I'm being paid for it!”

Don't stop with yourself, though! Actively building meaning and purpose into work changes how people think about the contribution they make to the world, their life and things that matter for them. Undoubtedly positive for individuals, it is also hugely beneficial for organisations as it creates more engaged, more satisfied and better performing employees.

Kasia Negri is the founder of Beyond the Board Training.

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