The meaning that a person gives to his or her work is intimate; it depends on his or her history, personality, values and perceptions. As intimate as it is, managers must deal with this concept on a day-to-day basis as they try to mobilize their troops. Here are 3 studies that take stock of what is known about “meaningful work”.

Study 1 – Link between meaningful work and HR indicators

In 2019, Blake A. Allan and his team published a meta-analysis entitled “Outcomes of Meaningful Work: A Meta‐Analysis“, compiling 44 scientific articles with over 23,000 participants. The authors found a strong link between meaningful work and important HR indicators.

We found that meaningful work had large correlations with work engagement, commitment, and job satisfaction; moderate to large correlations with life satisfaction, life meaning, general health.”

Study 2 – Definition of “meaningful work”

Knowing that there is a link between meaningful work and HR indicators is not very helpful if one does not understand what is meant by work being “meaningful”. Frank Martela and his team from the University of Helsinki in Finland were interested in defining the meaning, breaking it down into three districts.

In the study entitled “Significant Work Is About Self-Realization and Broader Purpose: Defining the Key Dimensions of Meaningful Work“, published in 2018, the researchers defined meaningful work as such:

We have argued that when we talk about meaningful work, we talk about three separable components:

1. The subjective experience of work as intrinsically significant and worth doing;

2. The experience that one is able to realize oneself through work;

3. And the work serving a broader purpose.”

The first element refers to “identity” – is the work meaningful to us, is it consistent with our personality and values?

The second element refers to the idea of progression – does the work allow us to accomplish ourselves as a professional?

And the third element echoes Simon Sinek’s “why” – ultimately, what is the purpose of the work we do?

Study 3 – Four crossroads to feed meaningful work

The last study, but not the least, since it offers the most concrete levers, is the one entitled “Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness, and Beneficence: A Multicultural Comparison of the Four Pathways to Meaningful Work“, published in 2018 in the Journal Frontiers in Psychology.

We suggest that there are four psychological satisfactions that substantially influence work meaningfulness across cultures: autonomy (sense of volition), competence (sense of efficacy), relatedness (sense of caring relationships), and beneficence (sense of making a positive contribution).”

The team of researchers tested the satisfaction of these four psychological needs and their effect on the perception of doing meaningful work in Finland, India and the United States.

Except for competence in United States, all four satisfactions are significantly and independently associated with meaningful work”, conclude the researchers.

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