How to Find Meaning and Purpose in Your Work

How to Find Meaning and Purpose in Your Work


There’s an old joke in which a naive actress asks her director, “What’s my motivation in this scene?” The director snaps back, “Payday on Friday!” While salary is an important motivator and contributing factor of job satisfaction, meaning and purpose may be just as powerful, if not more. When your job has intrinsic meaning and purpose, you’ll experience greater motivation, productivity and fulfilment, as well as feel better about the day to day grind. The good news is that finding purpose in your work is an attainable goal, no matter what you do for a living.

Purpose and meaning should be a two-way street between employee and employer. Employers who invest in their workforce to enhance their sense of purpose will experience lower turnover and greater productivity.

As an employee, there are several things you can do to find purpose in your work, and that’s true whether you’re the newest intern or the owner of the company. Here’s how.

Focus on who you help

When you’re a surgeon or a fire fighter, it’s easy to draw a clear line between the tasks you perform and the people it benefits, but in fact, every job helps someone. A quality control worker is helping to keep people safe. A scientist is furthering human knowledge. A call centre operator is responding to concerns and solving problems.

Focusing on the beneficiary of your work, no matter how many layers removed he or she may be, is an excellent way to remember why you do what you do. That connection to real people is what gives your work purpose, no matter how unglamorous the tasks themselves may be.

Invest in workplace relationships

Your work connects you to other people in a more immediate sense as well. By fostering relationships with those around you, you’ll build a deeper sense of connection with your work. On a basic level, spending the day with people whose company you enjoy makes the work more enjoyable. On a deeper level, those warm relationships serve to build your connection to the company and instil purpose into the work. Having a best friend at work is closely linked to engagement, with social relationships being critical for happiness.

Look for opportunities to deepen those relationships by giving back where you can. If there’s a junior member of staff looking for a mentor, consider taking on that role. If you’re the junior, seek out a mentoring relationship of your own. The give and take inherent in these roles helps both parties, as humans find purpose in acts of service.

Read more: How Becoming a Mentor Can Benefit Your Career

Don’t lose sight of your goals

The people you help and the people you connect with aren’t the only ones who give your work purpose. You can build a sense of purpose by looking at your own goals and remembering why you work.

Some of that, of course, will be the practical consideration of having a salary. Look beyond the pay day aspect, however, and zero in on how this job furthers your overall career goals. Are you learning a new skill, or building a network of people that will help you find the next opportunity? Perhaps your job is keeping a roof over your head while you pursue further studies, or keeping a roof over your children’s heads so that they can do the same. If you can see it as part of a greater life plan, it will have more meaning for you.

Do the best job you can

The pursuit of excellence is integral to enhancing our sense of purpose. In one study from the Ross School of Business, researchers found that hospital janitors derived job satisfaction from what they termed ‘job crafting’. They harnessed their natural talents and interests to add value to the tasks they were assigned, and those who went that extra step found greater happiness in their work. Treat your work as a craft and take pride in the great work you do, even when it goes unnoticed by others. You know your worth.

Purpose isn’t magic – it’s something we must consciously pursue and create. With the right approach, almost any job can be meaningful.

Also read: Job Satisfaction: What Really Matters to Today’s Workforce

This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Fast Company, New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and the Michigan Ross School of Business.

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