There is an onslaught of information on the need to find meaningful work. It doesn’t take research (although there’s plenty to support the idea) to know that those who find purpose in their job are significantly more likely to have greater performance, motivation, engagement, empowerment, career development, and general well-being. If this doesn’t convince you, consider that those who make an effort to find more meaningful work also seem to be surrounded by other people who have the same intentions.
In a recent interview on Freakonomics podcast, comedian and actor Aziz Ansari was discussing, among other things, how he picks projects and the effects this has on his fan base.
I’ve been very careful about what I chose to do and I only do things that I really like. [I]f you do a show like Parks [& Rec] or you do standup, which is just going to be you, you’re going to attract people to your work who are people you would probably enjoy meeting or speaking with. Like if I did some douchey show that I didn’t like, I’d probably have some douchey fans that I don’t like. But since I’ve done stuff that I’m proud of and respect, the people that come up to me are cool and respect me and I respect them and they are usually cool people. It’s about the choices you make and what you do.
We typically associate the need for meaningful work with intrinsic, “feel good” attributes. This is true, however, it also has a dramatic effect on who chooses to follow us. When we go down a path that doesn’t mesh with our core value or interests, we may find success, but the people behind us won’t necessarily be those we respect or like. Whereas when we do things that matter to us, we are rewarded with like-minded people who feel the same way.
If you are looking around and realizing that you are leading a bunch of people who you aren’t proud to be leading, we have good news – you can find meaning in your work that authentically represents your beliefs and will lead to the team you prefer to lead. In her 2013 book Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace, professor Jane Dutton outlined three ways you can redefine your job to make it more meaningful.
- Alter the tasks you perform. You may not have the latitude to completely redesign your job, but there is some room to tweak duties. Get the undesirable tasks done first so you can spend more of your efforts on those that are fulfilling. When possible, you can also limit the time you spend on the “less fun” list and create meaningful tasks that benefit you and your organization.
You can be an architect of the tasks. – Jane Dutton
- Change relationships in the workplace. Once you have more meaningful tasks in your day, you can start rebuilding your following. Make an effort to spend less time with those who deplete your positive mindset and collaborate with colleagues who support your newfound sense of purpose.
We never make meaning in a vacuum. Work is very social. – Jane Dutton
- Use cognitive restructuring to reframe the way you think about work. Not all undesirable tasks can be hastened or discarded; we all have responsibilities that we don’t like but need to accomplish. In these cases, find the meaning. Consider why the task matters, how it helps others, how it improves you reputation, etc.
For all these things in our jobs that we just don’t like, we can take a step back and link it to the things that really matter. – Michael Steger
We spend too much time at work to not enjoy those with whom we are spending our time. As Aziz said, he respects the people who are his fans because he attracts people who respect him and his work. Explore and embrace how you can be proud of your work. It will generate a team of people you appreciate and will maximize your socialable work time.