The New Definition of “Meaningful Work”

I’m going to stop fighting. For years I’ve been fighting morons who claim that Millennials would rather do ‘meaningful work’ than making money. That is actually one big lie, I believe perpetuated by employers who don’t want to pay market wages! (Conspiracy Theory Alert!!!) Actually, it showed up on a bunch of studies that were poorly worded and confusing.

The reality is money matters until it doesn’t.

Millennials and almost any other human on the planet would love to do work that is ‘meaningful’ and something they enjoy doing. That isn’t rocket science. But, if you’re not at least making a fair market wage, money is the most important thing for the majority of people. The studies that said Millennials would prefer meaningful work over money, didn’t make it clear about the money.

It was put to them as if it was a decision about ‘more’ money or ‘meaningful’ work, what would they choose. The perception being that you are already making ‘good’ money, so now what do you want? More money, or meaningful work, or something else. In that case, the majority of people choose other things because we don’t want to come across as greedy.

All of this brings up a great concept, though, about what the heck do we really mean when we say, “Meaningful Work”? That was also a problem in early studies. Most people assumed that ‘meaningful work’ was ‘charitable’ work. It was about working for a company like Tom’s that made shoes and gave a pair of shoes to the needy when you bought a pair. Or working at a hospital that helped people, etc.

You couldn’t work at Amazon and have it be meaningful work. Serving hot fries and cold beer at Applebee’s isn’t meaningful work. All of this ‘meaningful work’ stuff became very limiting for young people searching for jobs!

The reality is, meaningful work has basically two components:

1. Is the work something you’re good at? 

2. Is the work important to you?

This new definition of meaningful work makes it much easier to understand and reach a position that is more personal to what you are good at, and what ultimately is important to where you are at in your life and career.

This definition of meaningful work allows people to have many forms of what would be considered meaningful work for themselves, not others. You might find grooming dogs meaningful work, but I might not. That’s okay, it’s your job, not mine! I find bakers have meaningful work. I love what they make, but the person who is working as a baker might not find it to be meaningful work, it might just be a job.

Meaningful work is important to the individual doing it. I run a staffing firm. We find people jobs that I hope will increase their career value, and help them reach their life goals. I find that meaningful. Others hate my profession and call me a headhunter. That’s okay, it’s not their work, it’s mine.


One thought on “The New Definition of “Meaningful Work”

  1. I agree. Most people, not only millennials and highly educated workers, want meaningful work and a decent paycheck.

    Perhaps interesting for those who want to know more on meaningful work and its definition: “Sweeping the Floor or Putting a Man on the Moon: How to Define and Measure Meaningful Work” has been approved for production and accepted for publication in Frontiers in Psychology, section Organizational Psychology.

    The publication will be open access, so it will be accessible to all!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.