Giving Meaning to Work

About a month after starting my first “real” job at a public accounting firm following college graduation, I vividly remember waking up and thinking, “I can’t believe that this is going to be my life for the next 40 years, give or take.” I worked with a fun group of people and was employed by a well-respected and supportive firm. I was lucky. And yet, the idea of waking up day after day to go to work for years on end totally depressed me. I wanted more.

Shortly thereafter, I started volunteering at a homeless shelter. I went every Monday night and helped the residents look for jobs, type up their resumes, prep for interviews and ponder about life. After about 7 or 8 months, the staff at the shelter approached me and asked if I would be interested in working there. I jumped at the chance! I took a big pay cut, but “saving the world” was going to be worth it. And it was. I have no regrets.

And if you look at my salary history, it jumps all over the place. I am a hard worker, and I spend too much time at work to be miserable. I’ve always followed my heart, regardless of what the salary was. Thus, I agree with the recent HBR article, “9 Out of 10 People Are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do More Meaningful Work.” Per the article, “Employees with very meaningful work spend one additional hour per week working, and take two fewer days of paid leave per year.” Ha! I spent many additional hours per week working, and it’s fulfilling and (mostly) fun.

The challenge, per the article, is for employers to identify meaningful work for their employees. This means different things for different people, which makes it even more difficult. Not every employee is going to be satisfied weeding a community garden or painting a school. Thus, the first step is for employers to talk with their teams and truly understand what “meaningful” means to them, and how that plays out in the workplace. By doing this, they will have a grateful workforce that is willing to put in that extra hour to support the company.

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