Recently (2019) Xing asked over 17,000 of its members about salaries and one of the primary results is that every tenth XING user would change jobs for more meaningful work. According to the study, Generation Y in particular places more value on meaning in their job than on the “pure paycheck at the end of the month”.

This is just one of many surveys that consider the purpose of work to be very important. Under a similar aspect, in 2019 I conducted workshops on the search for meaning and team vision with 9 teams and I noticed that not everyone needs meaning and that it is often difficult to find, especially in routine tasks. But the topic of meaning is currently such a big topic in the minds of many managers that a veritable search for meaning is kicked off in some companies.

Reading tip: Team workshop to search for meaning

Search for meaning in companies

Companies often advertise meaningful work and freedom on the career portal. Magazines like that too WiWo give tips on how to find more meaning in your work can. The most important are:

  • Establish a private connection to the job
  • Search for new tasks and train them further
  • Create a productive environment
  • Clarify and increase the importance of the job
  • Invest in meaningfulness and possibly change jobs

Now, at one of my lectures at the Long Night of Sciences in 2019, I was asked whether every job actually wants such a clear meaning and whether this is necessary for everyone at all. I found this question exciting and gave a very detailed answer, which I want to summarize below.

Does every job have to make sense?

This question has occupied me personally for a long time and I also think for myself how much sense I actually need. In one Interview with Tim Hagemann in Die Zeit the following quote can be found:

When asked about their ideal fulfillment, people who see a purpose in their work feel happier than people whose job is purely for a living. Conversely, a high income compensates for a non-fulfilling job.

Tim Hagemann in an interview with Die Zeit

Many in my environment are looking for meaning, free development and professional advancement, but there are also a large number who have withdrawn into private life. I experience this group as completely motivated. Sometimes they are building a house or finding meaning in the family or in a club. The job should not be so stressful because it simply serves to finance life. This group has a purpose, but it’s not professional.

I think everyone needs a purpose, but it doesn’t have to be in the job.

Proactive work makes more sense than reactive work

I would also like to go into the second group: the large number of people seeking meaning in the job. In my workshops with the teams, I noticed that more proactive jobs such as sales or agile teams with a customer focus were much easier to find than routine tasks such as receptionist, support or a telephone operator. But what do I mean by that exactly?

Simple finding of meaning in pragmatic tasks

According to Duden means proactive : “ By means of differentiated advance planning and targeted action, the development of an event is self-determining and a situation is brought about “. So it’s about jobs in which everyday work and tasks can largely be determined by yourself.

I often find this in agile consulting teams or in sales. The agile teams, for example, advised the customer, recommended new technologies and implemented them. So it was more of a proactive work with a lot of personal influence. Visions such as: “We make the customer successful and help to develop the mobility of tomorrow” were enough and motivated the team and made sense. The motivation was to sell your own ideas to the customer and make them successful.

Difficult finding meaning, especially in reactive routine tasks

It was rather difficult to find meaning in teams with routine tasks. These are more reactive: you react to an event and are more or less controlled by others. Let’s take an employee at the reception of a hotel. Of course we want to satisfy our guests and be the best hotel in the world. But the problem is that the job is quite reactive.

Specifically: a guest comes and I work on his request. It is similar at the bank counter or in the German post office or in my area in support. Some time ago I was at the Schloss der Arbeit in Dortmund together with the government of North Rhine-Westphalia and the DIHK. Miners also suffered a lot from the work, as you had the feeling that you would never be finished, as the mountain seemed almost endless.

With the job mentioned, an employee actually has the feeling that you never get any further and you won’t be finished right away, because one customer after another keeps coming back. It was difficult or almost impossible to really find a vision and meaning in the work. We had the first drafts, but I wasn’t satisfied.

At the moment I think that maybe you don’t have to find any meaning at all. The teams from my workshops told me that they are so highly motivated because the working environment is simply good. Specifically, that means: I work with my favorite colleagues for a good salary and do half of what I enjoy. Maybe this is the way to go?

Conclusion

In conclusion, I can say that the question can be answered in two ways. First, there are a large number of people who do not seek meaning in their job and therefore do not need it. Second, the job seekers group is divided into two types: reactive and proactive work.

Proactive work often makes sense that is easy to find. We still find it difficult to find meaning for reactive work. My approach is that we shouldn’t force it, but rather a good environment for motivation is important for reactive work.

Specifically: decent salary, nice colleagues, modern offices and good management. At least that’s what my last conversations with employees who do such reactive work have shown. What do you mean? How important is the meaning of the job to you?

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Dr. Dominic Lindner
Author

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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