Meaningfulness is the most important aspect of work — even more important than pay, rewards, promotion or working conditions.
Psychologists have found, though, that workers make no mention of their bosses while talking about what makes their work meaningful to them.
The only way management influenced meaningfulness at work was by destroying it.
The authors write:
“…our research showed that quality of leadership received virtually no mention when people described meaningful moments at work, but poor management was the top destroyer of meaningfulness.”
For the research, 135 people in ten very different occupations were interviewed.
They were asked: “What’s the point of doing this job?”
Meaningful work has five qualities, the authors found:
“1. Self-Transcendent. Individuals tend to experience their work as meaningful when it matters to others more than just to themselves. In this way, meaningful work is self-transcendent.
2. Poignant. People often find their work to be full of meaning at moments associated with mixed, uncomfortable, or even painful thoughts and feelings, not just a sense of unalloyed joy and happiness.
3. Episodic. A sense of meaningfulness arises in an episodic rather than a sustained way. It seems that no one can find their work consistently meaningful, but rather that an awareness that work is meaningful arises at peak times that are generative of strong experiences.
4. Reflective. Meaningfulness is rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people are able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning.
5. Personal. Work that is meaningful is often understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences.”
Professor Katie Bailey, the study’s first author, said:
“In experiencing work as meaningful, we cease to be workers or employees and relate as human beings, reaching out in a bond of common humanity to others.
For organizations seeking to manage meaningfulness, the ethical and moral responsibility is great, since they are bridging the gap between work and personal life.”
The study was published in the MIT Sloan Management Review (Bailey & Madden, 2016).