How Do You Make Your Job Meaningful? Your Boss Can't Do It For You, Says Study, So Here's How To Do It Yourself
While some people are of the belief that a job is just a job, that isn't true for everyone — and, indeed, how to make your job meaningful is a question many Millennials in particular have been pondering in recent years. If you're one of the higher-ups, though, bad news: If you do good by your employees, you get zero credit, and if you do wrong by them, you get all the credit — or at least, that's what new research from the University of Sussex and the University of Greenwich has found. 135 people in 10 different fields were interviewed for the study, and the researchers came to a surprising conclusion: Your boss can't make your job more meaningful for you. In fact, when participants shared meaningful moments that had experienced at work, there was basically no mention of their leaders at all.
Here's the part that really sucks for bosses, though: They get little to no credit for good deeds, but they get all the credit for bad ones. Apparently participants said that poor management was the biggest reason that their position lacked meaningfulness.
The results of this study kinda sorta destroy the whole belief that good leaders make good teams, a notion firmly held by many, myself included. I wholeheartedly believe that when you have a boss who is kind, encouraging, and positive, that energy is carried over to the employees, and everyone is happier. I've had great bosses, and I've have flat-out awful bosses — and I can say with confidence that the good ones always made for a better work environment all around. (Shout-out to all the great bosses out there!)
But if your boss isn't going to make your job better and more meaningful for you, what will? A nice paycheck helps. And good benefits. Oh, and catered lunches. Catered lunches are always nice. But really, the answer lies within only one person: You. You are the one who has to make your job (and life!) more meaningful. Here are a few science-backed ways to do it.
1. Think About The End User
In order to give your job meaning, you have to think about the why: Why do you do what you do? For many, if not most of us, it comes down to our innate desire to help others in some way, even if indirectly. I write because I want to make people think, smile, laugh, feel. I want to make someone's day better, even if it's only for the few minutes when they're reading my work.
This might be tricky for employees who are very far removed from the end user and have a harder time making that emotional connection, but keeping your customers, patients, etc. in mind is crucial to finding meaning in your job. In fact, research has demonstrated numerous times that remembering that there is a human being affected by your job increases workers' motivation and improves accuracy.
For example, when radiologists received a file that included the patient's photo, the reports they wrote were 29 percent longer, and their diagnoses were 46 percent more accurate. In another study, certain nurses assembling surgical kits met with the practitioners who would be using them; these nurses worked 64 percent more minutes and made 15 percent fewer errors, compared to nurses who did not meet the practitioners.
Remember, someone is depending on you. Your job has meaning.
2. Maintain A Sense Of Autonomy
Autonomy refers to an individual's freedom and independence. We like to have our freedom in our personal lives, and we like it in our professional lives, too. It's tougher in the workplace, since you have someone who's technically in charge of you. Science has found that making decisions energizes us, as opposed to someone making decisions for us, which can have the opposite effect.
You can see, then, why it's crucial to the meaningfulness of your job that you have some kind of control over it, in some way — even if it's small. Even if it's something that no one else knows about. Feeling that you have an element of control over your job and its outcome can make for a more meaningful work experience.
3. Establish A Direct Relationship Between Effort And Reward
This ties in with the first point about remembering the end user, which would be considered the reward for some employees: Believing that we have a positive impact on others is hugely important in finding meaning in your job. Finding some kind of connection — whether it's emotional, monetary, or otherwise — has been known to increase work productivity, reduce employee turnover, reduce stress, and provide an overall more pleasant and meaningful job experience. Find the reward for all of your hard work, and own it!