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The Importance of Finding Meaning on the Job

Every generation wants meaningful work, but thinks the other generations are just out for the money. Maybe the problem isn’t that other generations don’t value meaningful work. Maybe they just define it differently. According to a recent article, “meaningful work” is often defined by the various generations as the following:

  • Challenging work that allows people to grow and also from work that helps other people (Generation Traditionalists, born between 1922-1945);

  • When a goal is completed (Baby Boomers born between 1946-1964);

  • Goal completion with a focus on work-life balance (Generation X born between 1965-1983)

  • Enjoying the people you work with while benefiting the community through the job you’re doing (Generation X born between 1965-1983)

While job meaning is the top item most employees say they want from a job, research shows that less than 50% of people see their work as a calling containing the meaning they seek. In fact noted new “work motivators” include career, community & cause, (not just financial gain) through which employees create a psychological contract - the unwritten expectations and obligations between themselves and their employer. This contract helps the employee redefine their meaningful work in such a way as to achieve it.

The benefits of finding work meaningful are clear, cultivating work meaning is another matter.

To create meaning in your job or your employees roles, the key is to become or create more consciousness about the service you’re providing — as a whole and individually. One must connect with the beneficiary, the user, the purchaser and remind themselves of their organization’s overarching goal and then adopt a service mindset by thinking about how their work helps those they love, whether its through the financial gain a job provides, medical benefits or other resource. In this the connection between career, community and cause can be drawn.

The most meaningful work contains an emotional component. In addition to connecting career, community and cause the employee must develop the practice of reminding oneself why they work, who they are working for and the benefits of that work, take practice and intentionality, but the benefit leads to feelings of fulfillment and employee engagement.

Rod Brace, Ph.D.

Managing Partner

Rod Brace, Ph.D. is the managing partner for Relia Healthcare Advisors specializing in culture assessment, operational excellence and leadership development in High-Reliability Organizations.  He is a faculty member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the ACHE.

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