April 16, 2021

Study Reveals the 3 Keys to Meaningful Work

Meaningful work is something we crave.

We've all wondered about the meaning of work, and it's crossing our minds more these days. Not only because it's harder to disconnect from it, but also because work as we know it is changing, putting more opportunities within our reach. And because many of us are spending more time at home with and without our families, we can't help but reevaluate what's important.

Meaningful work is something we crave because it's part of our self-image, self-esteem, and it helps us keep going day after day.

Work becomes a big part of our lives beginning in our late teens. As we get older, we question the role of work and whether it aligns with our values, principles, and understanding of success. Meaningful work is something we crave because it's part of our self-image, self-esteem, and it helps us keep going day after day. Meaningful work, thankfully, looks different from person to person. It's often a reflection of our motivations and influenced by our experiences. But underneath it, there are common traits that help us recognize what meaningful work looks and feels like.
hands making heart

Researchers discovered three key characteristics of meaningful work: significance, broader purpose, and self-realization. Photo Credit.

A review published in 2018 looked in depth at the research on meaningful work. After sifting through all the data, the researchers discovered three concepts that repeatedly appeared in the studies: significance, broader purpose, and self-realization. These three characteristics, they concluded, are central to defining meaningful work.

1. Work that's significant

When we think our work is significant, we feel like it's valuable, that we're contributing to society, and these contributions align with our values. In contradiction, when we view our work as insignificant, we think it's pointless and isn't worthy of our time and effort.

Significant: significantly great or important to be worthy of attention.

As unique individuals, it's our responsibility to find work that is significant to us, and not be misled by what society labels as significant.

2. Work with a broader purpose

Everything we do has a purpose. For work to be meaningful, it doesn't matter whether the purpose has an effect on a large scale; it just matters that it positively affects others. Some people set out to solve world hunger, while some work to ensure their local community has nutritious meals. Regardless of scale, purposeful work feels like it benefits others beyond ourselves. And our purpose can help anyone (or anything) we want: our family, neighbors, friends, pets, or society as a whole.

3. Work we feel good doing

To be meaningful to us, our work has to align with our values, skills, and passions. Doing meaningful work means that we have the freedom to express ourselves through our work. In a job where we lack control, we're unable to engage and often have difficulty finding meaning in it. Meaningful work should be fulfilling and feel like it contributes to our personal growth and contentment.
Published validated scales are available to help others assess meaningfulness in their work. One such scale is the Work as Meaning Inventory (WAMI). Here are its ten items:
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