Look to yourself: Finding personal meaning at work

There has been plenty written about the importance of making your work meaningful. Much of this refers to some sort of higher meaning, focusing on the positive effects your work can have on others and the world. Whilst this is of course helpful, it seems that people often forget that the simplest way to make your work meaningful is to find the meaning your job has for you. If this feels selfish, consider the fact that if your work is personally meaningful you will do it better and this will benefit others. Most importantly, though, you will feel better. We spend a lot of our lives working – it should be more than just a means to an end. Doing work that feels personally meaningful is a huge step you can take to improve your wellbeing (Arnold et al., 2007), and no, it doesn’t necessarily require a huge career change.

According to the Kelly Global Workforce Index, many young workers would favour a lower-paying job over a lucrative one if it gave them a strong sense of meaning. Similarly, morethan 90 percent of ‘millennials’ report that having meaning in their work is essential when deciding on a job (Lancaster & Stillman, 2010). And this is an increasing trend – graduates seeking work are placing more emphasis on this than ever before, and a research by Deloitte with Glassdoor found that values and culture (which provide meaning) were the most influential factors on whether employees would recommend their organisation.

Whilst it is positive that people are seeking ‘meaning’, many don’t actually know how to find it. It won’t simply reveal itself unless you invest effort in it; through focusing in on yourself, you can find it. A useful first step is to consider your personal values in life. How do these relate to your job? If you are lucky enough to be able to influence and adapt your role, take this opportunity to ‘craft’ your job so that you can spend more time working on projects you find meaningful (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). If not, there is still plenty you can do – it is more about your mind-set than the actual job content. Be mindful of how a task is developing you, improving your skills, or allowing you to form positive new relationships. Whilst you will no doubt have goals to achieve at work, don’t forget to reflect on your experiences of the journey towards them – we can experience satisfaction not just through reaching goals but through seeking meaning throughout the process of getting there. Finally, aim to be authentic at work. Act true to yourself. If you aren’t, it will be a lot harder to feel the personal meaning in what you do.



·         Think about how your work relates to your personal values - think small; focusing on individual tasks is often easier than taking a ‘bigger picture’ perspective

·         Stay mindful of how your work is helping you to develop yourself

·         Aim to be your authentic self at work


Written by Emily Jarrett

Currently studying an MSc in Occupational Psychology, Emily is passionate about improving people’s mental health, especially in the workplace. She is excited to be studying the wellbeing of professional dancers for her dissertation, and also has experience in the area of assessment




Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., & McKee, M. C. (2007). Transformational Leadership and Psychological Well-being: the mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology12(3), 193.

Kelly Global Workforce Index (2014). A World at Work: Workers across the globe talk trends, attitudes and workplace performance.

Lancaster, L. C., & Stillman, D. (2010). The m-factor. Delta Sky Magazine, (May), 66-70.

Bersin (2016). Analytics: The New Center of Expertise in HR. Bersin by Deloitte.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review26(2), 179-201.