Good work, meaningful work: what’s the difference?

There is significant interest at the moment in the idea of ‘good work’ as we move towards a general election here in the UK. The CIPD for example have recently launched their Manifesto for Work 2017. In the manifesto, the CIPD argue that people must be put ‘much more at the heart of business thinking and practice’, and call for the next government to:

  • Overhaul the UK’s system of corporate governance
  • Help create a more accessible labour market and more inclusive workplaces
  • Support investment in skills, lifelong learning and improvements in employee well-being and engagement
  • Ensure the development of modern working practices don’t undermine individuals’ employment rights or security

Another important initiative is Matthew Taylor’s government review into employment practices in the modern economy. The review addresses six themes:

  • Security, pay and rights
  • Progression and training
  • The balance of rights and responsibilities
  • Representation
  • Opportunities for under-represented groups
  • New business models

The deadline for submitting evidence and ideas to the review is coming up on 17th May, and if you have some thoughts you want to share with the review panel you can do this here.

These initiatives focus very much on the need to ensure we create and sustain high quality employment that offers good conditions of work in a climate where these are increasingly coming under threat.

Vitally important though good work is, as Ruth Yeoman argues, it is not quite the same as meaningful work.  Drawing on the theories of Susan Wolf, Ruth argues that meaningful work is a combination of work that is objectively good, ie it is generally regarded as valuable and offers good pay and conditions, together with work that is subjectively experienced as meaningful. In other words, it is work that the individual finds exciting and involving, and that matters to them personally. Without this subjective element, work cannot be experienced as meaningful.

Perhaps the recent calls for good work could, then, be made even more ambitious by including an aspiration to meaningfulness?  If, as Ruth Yeoman argues, meaningful work is more than just a ‘nice to have’ but is in fact a fundamental human need, then stopping short of campaigning for meaningful work would seem like a missed opportunity.

Katie Bailey


Katie delivers inspiring talks and workshops on what makes work meaningful, how to talk about meaning, and how to create meaningful workplaces.

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Katie’s coaching practice covers three main areas: career and job coaching for academics; coaching for leaders and individuals in meaning and purpose; life coaching for individuals.

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Free resources to learn about what makes work meaningful and how to find more meaning in your work. Including articles, podcasts, videos and interviews.

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