In any given line of work, you can probably encounter a few employees who are unhappy because their work doesn’t provide them with a sense of purpose. It might sound like a shallow problem, especially to the unemployed who are fighting just to land a job, but it’s a real long-term issue. After all, we work to make a living, and what is living without meaning? These tips will help you find greater purpose in your work.
Author Emily Esfahani Smith tackles the broader issue of finding purpose in life in her book, The Power of Meaning. One key aspect she discusses is our ability to discover meaning by helping others. Some professions, such as those in healthcare, inherently provide a sense of meaning — you can see how your work helps others each day. Those who work in the field, such as commercial drainage contractors at construction sites in Hawke’s Bay, are also aware of how their efforts will ultimately improve the health and well-being of entire communities.
But if you operate behind a desk all day, year-round, it can be tougher to visualise how your work helps others. Good leadership can make a huge difference; leaders are in a position to connect employees’ tasks to the organisation’s vision and values and reinforce that by telling stories about how the team’s output is directly improving people’s lives. Thus, even those who work behind the scenes get to share in that sense of purpose and find meaning in their work.
Shaping the narrative
In a general sense, frustration with one’s circumstances can exert a stronger influence if one allows negative thoughts to define themselves. There are always going to be some aspects of our current situations which we can’t change, at least not right away. If you’ve always aspired to be a leader or in a creative position but had to accept an entry-level job with routine tasks, that doesn’t have to change the way you perceive yourself. You can still be a leader or a creative person despite your role. It may not be your official designation, but if you keep on learning and applying the skills of leadership and set a good example, for instance, others will take notice and look to you for advice and inspiration. In this way, you can control your narrative and remain filled with a sense of purpose in any situation.
An employee who takes a purely functional approach to their job, colleagues and work environment may feel disengaged. Companies like to drive employee engagement because it improves performance and satisfaction. Yet the organisation’s bottom line isn’t the only thing that matters; disengaged employees are less happy with what they do.
At work, engagement and purpose are linked; if you feel that what you do for a living isn’t meaningful, you might wish to closely evaluate your relationships with the leadership and the rest of your team. Having stronger connections with colleagues will help bolster communication and trust. People are more likely to express mutual appreciation and engage in collaborative activities which make each member feel valued, and thus increase one’s pride and a sense of purpose as they carry out their jobs.
Finding purpose in your work doesn’t have to entail seeking out a change of pace or scenery, or finding new challenges. These simple steps will help you become more connected to the positive outcomes related to your work and improve your perception of your role and, ultimately, satisfaction with what you do.