In my book The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here, I made the point that the formula for the traditional deal at work is as follows:
I work... to earn money... which I use... to consume stuff... which makes me happy.
I suggested that this deal is not a sufficient description of what work can and should be. Instead I put forward the following future-focused deal at work:
I work... to gain productive experiences... that are the basis... of my happiness.
But this begs the question – what exactly is a meaningful productive experience, and how do you know when your work is meaningful? So here are the 10 questions to ask yourself to establish whether your work is meaningful.
- Do you use the majority of the knowledge you have on a daily basis?
...because meaningful work provides an opportunity for you to keep your knowledge fresh by using it constantly.
- Do you feel intellectually stretched in your work?
...because meaningful work both uses the knowledge you have and pushes the boundaries of what you can become.
- Are you able to learn something new at least once a week?
...because meaningful work creates constant opportunity for learning.
- In your view are your colleagues at work knowledgeable and do you learn from them constantly?
...because meaningful work is also about the colleagues who come with it, and your learning and development comes primarily through learning from others: what I have called ‘The Posse’.
- Are the tasks you do at work interesting and complex?
...because at the heart of meaningful work are the day-to-day tasks that you do.
- Do you get lots of feedback about how you are doing?
...because meaningful work enables you to grow, and feedback from others is a crucial part of this.
- Do you think that the work you do has a positive impact on the business?
...because meaningful work enables you to make a clear link in your mind between the tasks you perform and the broader goals of the business.
- Do you think that the work you do has a positive impact on society?
...because meaningful work is made up of tasks that you believe do good and, as a consequence, make you feel good about yourself.
- In your daily work, do you have the opportunity to reach out to develop networks with people very different from yourself?
...because meaningful work creates opportunities for you to develop the ‘Big Ideas Crowd’ that is so crucial to developing your innovative and creative capacity.
- Does your work give you time to really develop deep regenerative relationships with people inside and outside of your organisation?
...because meaningful work creates time and space for you to develop emotionally.
So where are you on meaningful work?
Through your active choices, or sheer luck, you are working in a meaningful way. Cherish the opportunities this provides and don’t compromise in the future.
Some aspects of your work are meaningful. Take a closer look at those you have said no to and search for the underlying patterns. Is it possible to focus on developing these areas?
Your job lacks meaning – you already know that! The question is – what are you going to do about it?
This is my take on meaning at work – are there any areas you would add?