How to find meaningful work and improve your wellbeing

By Anna Gaunt,
updated on Jul 26, 2023

How to find meaningful work and improve your wellbeing

Whatever it looks like for you, uncover steps for finding work that uplifts and fulfils you

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, so it’s hardly surprising that work influences our wellbeing. How much we get paid, job security, promotion opportunities, and working hours all contribute to our satisfaction at work. However, research shows that an even more important factor in job satisfaction is meaning.

A 2010 review of research by the University of Michigan found that employees increasingly value the belief that their work is meaningful ahead of other factors. There are many definitions of meaningful work, but one definition is understanding what your role is, seeing how the tasks you engage in have a purpose, and knowing that your work serves the greater good.

As a wellbeing coach, I often witness how meaningful work plays a role in not just job satisfaction, but overall wellbeing. People who live more meaningful lives are happier, more resilient, and build positive connections with others. Meaningful work can also improve performance, motivation, and commitment to an organisation, so it’s a win for employers, too!

Whatever your current work situation, whether you’re looking for a new job, or just looking to make your work life a bit happier, there are many ways that you can find meaningful work and, in doing so, look after your wellbeing.

Start by writing a list of work that feels meaningful to you

Of course, saving lives as a surgeon, firefighter, or nurse can contribute to high levels of meaning at work – but meaningful work is personal and different for everyone. Write a list of potential jobs you may enjoy, and think about why they would be meaningful to you. As a gym instructor, you can help people to lead healthier lives; as a delivery driver, you can make shopping more accessible; or as a teacher, you can help to shape the minds of the future. It’s about understanding the difference you make, and why that is meaningful to you.

Identify your values and strengths

Your values and strengths are closely tied, and there are many ways to identify them. You could take a strengths questionnaire online, or simply look at how you like to spend your time. If you’re often helping others, you may value humanity, and your strength may be kindness. If you’re very active in your local community, you may value justice and your strength may be teamwork. Identifying your values and strengths can help you to find an employer that shares your values, and a job that utilises your strengths. Research shows that a job you care about and are good at is more likely to provide meaning.

Craft your job

‘Job crafting’, a term coined by psychologists Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton, is essentially changing what you do and the purpose behind it, without upping and changing jobs. Not everyone can alter their job role, but you could try asking your manager if you can pick up a task that you’re good at that isn’t currently in your job description, or enrol in a training opportunity to learn a new skill you’re interested in. If this is not possible within your role, you can still job craft by changing your perspective on the work you do. Think about the impact certain tasks have, what would happen if you didn’t play your part, and it is important. You can also job craft by turning your attention to building more positive relationships at work. Changing how you interact with your colleagues and manager can enable a sense of belonging, which is important to both meaning and wellbeing.

Set your own goals and create your own definition of success

Although it is important for employers to ensure individual goals are aligned with the objectives of the organisation, it is also important to think about what you would like to achieve at work. Would you like to get a promotion with more hours, or more responsibility? Or is leaving the office at 3pm to spend time with your family more important?

Meaningful work is associated with achievement and accomplishment, and setting yourself goals means you’re more likely to succeed. But only you know what success means to you – think about the life you want to create, and write your own definition.

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