Are you working to live? How to find meaning and purpose

Post-pandemic, the quest for meaningful work has become commonplace as people eschew the nine-to-five to start purpose-driven businesses or seek employment in companies that align with their values, explains Nina Mapson Bone, people and culture specialist and author of Meaningful Work.

Solo business owners often start their ventures as a result of searching for meaning that they haven’t found in organisations within which they were employees.

The quest for meaning is an innate human need, and work has become one of the main ways we seek to fill that need. At Beaumont People, we have been conducting research into meaningful work since 2019 and now have inputs from over 5000 individuals contributing to our world-first data. We confirmed through this research that our work provides an income to live and support ourselves and our families, but with the decline of traditional sources of community and social support, such as the decline in church attendance or the decline in knowing our neighbours, work has become a primary source of personal identity, significance and meaning.

The rise of meaning in work

Our research has painted a vivid picture of a shifting landscape in the four years we have been analysing meaningful work. In 2019, 71 per cent of respondents believed that “having meaningful work was more important today compared with five years ago” and a resounding 98 per cent of our survey participants acknowledged its significance.

In our 2023 Insights Report, we discovered that safety (physical, mental and emotional) became the most important driver for meaningful work, replacing having the trust of your manager. The trajectory for meaningful work is clear – its importance in our lives is growing.

This realisation comes as no surprise, as meaningful work has been shown to increase job satisfaction, develop career advancement, mitigate work-related stress, and positively influence overall well-being. The benefits of meaningful work extend beyond individual lives and into organisations, too.  A workforce engaged in meaningful work demonstrates higher commitment levels, lower absenteeism rates, and reduced turnover. Even in the face of economic downturns or organisational resizing, these organisations’ performance remains steadfast due to the dedication of their contented employees.

While the value of meaningful work is undeniable, our research has shed light on the challenges many encounter in attaining it. The lack of clarity, of measurable definitions, and a limited understanding of the various paths to its discovery present substantial hurdles.

Uncovering the factors of meaningful work

We overcame these challenges by breaking down the factors of meaningful work and providing a way to measure it through the meaningful work profile tool (MWPT). Our research has revealed four fundamental factors driving meaningful work:

1. Individual:

    At the individual level, meaningful work is defined by our inherent qualities of mind and character – our interests, abilities, and personality traits. It also encompasses our characteristic adaptations – personal concerns like motives, goals, and aspirations; along with personal narratives – the stories we tell ourselves about our work.

    2. Job:

      On the job front, meaningful work finds its cues in the type, quality, and quantity of tasks. Job design also plays a pivotal part, including how the organisation or individual has crafted or tailored the role to create a sense of meaningfulness.

      3. Organisational:

        Organisational-level indicators of meaningful work consider the individual’s interpretation of leadership, the organisational culture, policies, practices, and the social ecosystem within the workplace. These elements collectively contribute to shaping the meaningfulness of the job.

        4. Societal:

          Societal influences extend their impact into meaningful work, driven by economic and social factors. Access to decent work and alignment with cultural norms significantly contribute to an individual’s ability to attain meaning through their work.

          Finding your unique path

          Discovering purpose in work goes beyond a personal pursuit. It’s like a special ingredient that empowers businesses to stand strong, even when faced with challenges. When our work reflects our core identity, it serves as motivation not only for ourselves but it also breathes vitality into our ventures.

          Understanding these four factors of meaningful work —yourself, your job, your business environment, and the bigger picture—provides you with a guiding light. It directs you towards a path where your job isn’t just a routine but a journey that matches your identity and values. This understanding will help you to persevere even in moments of uncertainty. Through this mindset, you’re not just managing a business; you are creating stories that deeply connect with the community you reach.

          Here’s to navigating solo entrepreneurship’s exhilarating, occasionally chaotic, yet always purpose-driven life. Let’s ensure your work holds significance beyond profits—let’s make it genuinely meaningful.

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