Meaning at work

Thanks to The Nub and Curt Rosengren for pointing me this report by Roffey Park: Research links the issue of ‘meaning’ at work to employee motivation

According to the research this quest for meaning can be triggered by changes in an individual’s life, for example reaching a landmark birthday, the loss of a parent or loved one or through an encroaching sense of one’s own mortality. It can also be prompted by changes in an organisation, if they erode the traditional values of community.

I certainly recognise this in my own life. I’ve been making a transition from being focussed on competition and achievement to looking for work that is intrinsically satisfying – which is what I think “meaningful” means to me. For me, this transition was kick-started by adversity, in the shape of a truly miserable experience of liitigation, and by losing my parents and hitting the inevitable signs of, whisper-it-not, middle-age.

The report continues:

“People need and want to belong to communities in which they can make meaningful contributions,” said Linda Holbeche. “Work, for many people, provides a source of identity. People work such long hours that work is often their social outlet as well. However in some organisations, downsizing and restructuring changes, and greater emphasis on the ‘dog-eat-dog’ work mentality, have made relationships more transactional and mistrustful. This has negated feelings of community within organisations, with detrimental effects.”

And here’s the Ordinary Cow (the obvious thing that seems to surprise some people)

“People are turned off by work that is meaningless or unethical,” said Linda Holbeche. “Without meaning at work, morale suffers, change becomes more difficult to manage and people start to look for other jobs or consider self-employment.”

The research highlights that people want to work for organisations they admire, where there is a fit between their own personal values and those of the organisation. They want challenging jobs, with clear goals, through which they can experience personal growth and in which their contribution is noticed and respected. They want an open, democratic form of leadership and they also want to balance their work with other aspects of their lives

Blindingly obvious, and yet I really think it needs stating again and again.

3 thoughts on “Meaning at work

  1. Johnnie Moore

    3 years ago I was traveling in Switzerland. I met an old woman who invited me in for tea. The conversation turned to life and purpose. I said that I wanted to FIND meaning in my life. She replied: “But that won’t work, you’ll be endlessly searching. You have to GIVE life meaning.”

    This hit me hard.

    Roffey Park research highlights what we already know. But how to do something about it is the key. Responsibility for meaning does not just lie with the organisation.

    Getting off soapbox now.


    You’re welcome to park your soapbox here anytime, Tim. You’ve articulated something I had as an afterthought this morning and I absolutely agree with you. I don’t think we can just blame organisations for lack of meaning and it is an individual challenge; I think that’s part of the Free Prize Inside argument of Seth Godin.

    I think if there is a “meaning gap” then there’s an opportunity for us all there.

  2. Colin

    Vey nice, Johnnie. And Tim.

    Jon Strande and I are goofing on bumper sticker/bullet point culture and it’s designed-to-fail shortcoming: Skinning the world of it’s meaning, worth and humanity for the facsimile of meaningful action.

    Change begins at home, revolution comes from within. FWIW, I bulleted Seth’s great book thus:

    1. Don’t curse the darkness, light a candle.

    2. Execute the idea, not yourself.

    3. Tis better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

    4. A “Free Prize” is a Daisy in the concrete

    Meaning is finding your own bulletproof points. Powerful stuff.



    Wow. What a great story from Tim. Seth Godin got me into interactive marketing and from there I joined a dotcom company. I wouldn’t have missed it. Permission to fail. I am looking forward to reading this new one. Sounds like the trick is to start by finding the purple bits in Ordinary Cows.

  3. Empowerment Illustrated


    Tim from the Nub on Jonnie Moore’s site gets on his soapbox: “3 years ago I was traveling in Switzerland. I met an old woman who invited me in for tea. The conversation turned to life and purpose. I said…


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