Feeling that your work has a deeper meaning or purpose has many positive consequences, for yourself as well as your organization: For instance, higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and (individual) performance. Therefore, researchers as well as practitioners have tried to find the antecedents of meaning in work for quite some time. Yet, it turns out that it´s a pretty complicated issue. A job that yields a lot of meaning for one person might feel totally meaningless for another individual.
Where should we look for the source of meaning in work? Is it something that can be found within ourselves? Does it depend on the type of job? Or is it determined by some characteristics of the organization? The answer is: very likely, all of those factors do play their role – and in part, meaning depends on the interaction between the characteristics of the person and those of the job.
In an empirical study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Tatjana Schnell and her colleagues surveyed some 200 people from different occupational backgrounds. In short, here´s what they´ve found:
When looking at all factors in a single model…
- the strongest predictor of meaning in work is job significance (= the perceived implications one’s deeds have on an organizational, societal or even global level);
- the runner-up is the organization´s socio-moral climate (= a culture that fosters a) open confrontation with social conflicts and problems; b) reliable appreciation, care, and support; and c) participative collaboration);
- third place goes to the organizations´s self-transcendent orientation (= commitment to a higher purpose, combined with a concern for ethics and integrity);
- and the last (but not least) impact comes in the form of work-role fit (= a perceived match between personal identity and actual job activities).
All in all, those attributes are able to predict almost 50% of the variance pertaining to participants´ level of perceived in meaning in work (that´s quite a lot in the context of psychological research). To put in everyday language:
We find meaning in our work when we frequently have the opportunity to perceive the (positive) outcome of our individual contribution, when our organization promotes a culture of fairness, trust, support – and authentically commits to some “greater good”, and when we feel that our job provides us with lots of opportunities to use our unique talents and matches our personal values.
In another fascinating article, Brent D. Rosso et al. try to provide an integrative model that compasses (more or less) all known factors that influence perceived meaning in work. Personally, I think it´s a very insightful (and: beautiful…) piece of research – and I will reread it frequently. I think, it is pretty self-explanatory, so I´ll leave it up to you to make the most of it.