Finding Purpose and Meaning in your Work
25 July 2022
What is work and why do it?
At the beginning of humankind as we know it, work in its purest form was about survival. We worked to provide for our basic human needs – we hunted and gathered for food; we built for shelter. Our reasons for working have changed over time. During the Roman Empire, work was deemed a lowly pursuit, reserved for the lower classes, through to the 18th century, sometimes referred to as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ where work, especially artisanship, became a marker of virtue.
The largest proportion of Australian workers work between 20-44 hours per week, which is a reasonable portion of our weekly life, so as the nature of our work and the reasons for doing it continue to evolve, we can ask ourselves why we choose the work that we do and what does that give us?
The importance of purpose and how to find it?
Purpose is a belief that your life matters and that you make a difference. It is a core pillar of wellbeing. It is a sense of being guided by meaningful values and goals. Purpose can be related to families or parenting, career, religion, activism, artistic pursuits, or other contributions to community. Looking for meaning is an intrinsic part of being human. It can strengthen our sense of self and identity.
3 Levels of purpose in your work:
Individual: Person to person; wanting to make a direct impact on someone’s life. An example might be doctor to patient, or a direct working relationship with customer or client.
Organizational: Wanting to make sustainable impact. The focus is on building teams, organizations, and institutions. Larger scope.
Societal: The impact here is larger than organizations. This is about affecting change in an industry.
How to find a job you love? + How to love the job you have?
Know your values. Aligning work with your values will help you achieve work satisfaction. Here are 9 values, which all include ways of being and key important beliefs.
Achievement: ambition; success; influence
Conservation: awareness; protection
Caring: helpful; loyal; loving
Freedom: learning; exploring; independence
Respect: self-respect; being capable
Tradition: respectful; humble; moderate
Enjoyment: variety; excitement; adventure
Stability: order: belonging; responsible
Equality + Justice: fairness; harmony; inclusion
You are more likely to flourish in work that suits your values. If freedom is important to you, a job that allows you independence and an opportunity to learn and explore at your own pace might be suitable. A likely unsuitable position might be one that lacks independence and autonomy.
The wellbeing of people in the workplace needs to be viewed in terms of not only their physical and mental health which should consider the interchange between home and work. Encouraging healthy lifestyles and improved personal resilience is becoming popular in workplace cultures.
Having a workplace that fosters creativity, support and inclusion helps employees have a sense of belonging and purpose at work. Having employee support services available (Employee Assistance Programs) and removing the stigma around access to these can help to support employees through challenging times but also offers an opportunity to strengthen their emotional intelligence and personal growth.
What happens when we stay in a job that lacks meaning?
‘Boreout’ is a term to describe work-related chronic boredom. It refers to work that does not provide adequate challenges, is repetitive or lacks meaning or purpose. Your work may not offer opportunities for social interaction, which might leave you feeling disconnected from work and colleagues. Being chronically bored at work can have damaging effects on our mental and physical wellbeing.
Boreout it is the opposite of its workplace counterpart, burnout. Burnout happens when you’re mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted - work, study, hobbies or relationships that you used to love don’t interest you anymore. You might lose motivation and feel helpless, drained and cynical. You could be struggling to meet the demands of work and study. The effect that boreout has on us is much the same. Studies have shown that as well as the immediate effects of elevated levels of staff turnover, chronic boredom at work can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. These in turn can foster poor sleep habits and physical health.
Tips for keeping purpose front of mind at work:
Written by Leila Rahimtulla.