Do you know how to help others feel a strong sense of meaning and purpose in the workplace? In two previous posts, I shared about the strategies of using self-reflection and community building, and in this one, I will share the last key strategy for developing a meaningful workplace: engage in serving others through your work.
Social service to others is one of the keystones of greater meaning and purpose in life, as numerous studies reveal. Research specifically on the workplace has found that the same concept applies to work as well as to anything else. So I and my fellow Intentional Insights participants are lucky ducks, as the organization by its very nature is oriented toward helping our audience have better lives. Furthermore, one of our key principles is to coach and mentor each other, which simultaneously builds social bonds and serves others.
It is important, however, to reflect occasionally on how I specifically help others have a better life. To do so, I and other Intentional Insights participants collect quotes from emails, blog comments, and other sources where people express gratitude to the organization for helping them, and share these with each other. I encourage a work culture where we highlight and celebrate mutual accomplishments in helping our audience members improve their lives.
Let’s say you have a 9-5 job that does not explicitly serve others, what then? No worries! Every job helps somebody somehow. Think about the social value you provide. What is it about what you do that helps others have better lives? Journal about it, and collect any positive feedback provided from others about your work. Take steps to solicit such feedback, since some workplaces don’t have optimal systems to provide it. Don’t ask for direct compliments, but ask people for their frank assessment of how you are doing, both your strengths and your weaknesses. Look for both formal and informal opportunities to support and coach others in your workplace.
Likewise, see if your workplace has service projects like building homes through Habitat for Humanity, volunteering in a soup kitchen, etc. Also, remember that the salary you earn at your work can be donated to charity, and many employers offer matching contributions. Effective Altruism identifies the most effective charities by using well-reasoned, evidence-based evaluations. Such civic engagement can help you find greater meaning and purpose in your work by serving others outside the direct context of your work. Again, to cultivate the deepest sense of life purpose, keep a journal and reflect on the positive impact you’ve had on others.
How do I know this is working for me?
Great question! I developed the Meaning and Purpose Questionnaire (MPQ), a research-informed tool used to quantify your own sense of purpose in every area. Then it customizes a science-based strategy to your personal search for purpose. Take that questionnaire with a focus on your work activities, and work on any areas that you might find are lacking.
What if my supervisor doesn’t want me to do meaning-making activities at work?
Yeah, I hear you. Some supervisors don’t yet realize the benefits for employee mental and physical health and wellbeing that come from a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their work. First off, I’d suggest you talk to them about the research on this topic, such as the studies summarized in this article and the previous one I wrote on this topic. Now if the argument about the mental and physical wellbeing of employees doesn’t satisfy them, I suggest you bring up research about how creating a meaningful workplace contributes to the bottom line for well-known companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Southwest Airlines, Tom’s of Maine, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, and many others. If they’re skeptical that they can actually create a sense of meaning and purpose in the workplace, I hope the examples in this and my previous article will help convince them otherwise, and here’s some research on other ways to do so. Also consider bringing this research to the attention of the HR department and upper-level administrators if your direct supervisor is not flexible.
Still, regardless of what your supervisor might think, a great deal of these activities are under your own control. Remember, you’re working for yourself, not for anyone else. Always remember that, be intentional, and show agency in getting what you want from your work, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Consider sharing this article with your co-workers and/or supervisor if you think they would benefit from reading it, and also if you would benefit from them having read it.
For additional resources on a science-based approach to finding meaning and purpose, check out this free workbook written by the author of the post; use this free science-based web app to evaluate your current sense of meaning and purpose; take this free online class on cultivating meaning and purpose in the workplace, certified for credit for coaches, trainers, HR professionals, and consultants; and also consider the wide variety of others resources on meaning and purpose at Intentional Insights.