Why does meaningful work matter?


You may ask: does it really matter if people find their work meaningful? Surely, most people go to work to earn a living. Meaningful work may be a ‘nice to have’ but not essential?

Together with my colleagues, I recently looked at the findings of all the research carried out since 1950 into meaningful work, and our review of the evidence showed that meaningful work has been associated with:

  • higher levels of engagement
  • higher levels of commitment
  • Feelings of accomplishment and growth
  • higher levels of morale and wellbeing
  • higher levels of job enjoyment
  • performance
  • lower levels of intention to quit work
  • the sense of a meaningful and purposeful life

Clearly, there would seem to be considerable benefits to individuals and their employers.

This has been reinforced by research published recently in the Harvard Business Review on people’s motivations at work. The study found that the top two long-term career goals for all generations in the workplace (including Millennials, Baby Boomers and Gen X) are:

making a positive impact on my organisation

solving social and/or environmental challenges

In fact, it was found that almost half of workers would take a 15% pay cut to work for an organisation with an inspiring purpose.

There is also the ‘moral argument’; in a modern society, we ought collectively to be concerned with ensuring that as many people as possible have access to work that is meaningful.

Further references:

Bailey, C., Yeoman, R., Madden, A., Thompson, M. and Kerridge, G. (2016). ‘A Narrative Evidence Synthesis of Meaningful Work: Progress and a Research Agenda’. Academy of Management Conference, Anaheim, August.