Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Ian Garner
Business Writer
12:00 AM 11th May 2024

Meaningful Work

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash
Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash
Jim Collins is an American researcher, author, speaker, and consultant specialising in business management, company sustainability, and growth. He once said, “It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”

Founder of the Virgin Group and serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson said: “In business, as in life, all that matters is that you do something positive.”

Apple founder Steve Jobs was known to say, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

How can we argue with some of the great minds of our time?

I think we'd all agree with these sentiments, but what do we mean by'meaningful work?'

A 2020 McKinsey & Company survey showed 82% of employees believe it’s important their company has a purpose; ideally, one that contributes to society and creates meaningful work, and when a company has purpose, its people do, too.

Image by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay
Image by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay
Separate McKinsey research from 2022 showed 70% of employees say their personal sense of purpose is defined by their work, and when that work feels meaningful, they perform better, are much more committed, and are about half as likely to go looking for a new job.

There is complexity at play, which makes for a good job. Certainly, fair pay, good benefits, a supportive boss, and great coworkers are crucial. But many companies offer these things, or at least claim to offer them; they're no longer the only things that are important. Workers are really looking for meaning in their work.

A recent study by the Harvard Business Review found that 50% of workers would take a pay cut to do work that’s more meaningful. And another study found that employees who find meaning in their work are more than three times as likely to stay with their current employer.

Meaningful work isn’t just some big aspiration. In a packed labour market with a skills shortage, it’s vital to keep your employees happy.

The Great Resignation describes the record number of people leaving their jobs since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. After an extended period of working from home with no commute, many people have decided their work-life balance has become more important to them.

The last few years have aroused an appeal for meaning and purpose. While pay is still an important consideration, workers are increasingly looking to join companies that have a purpose and stand for something when it comes to the environment and social impact.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay
Image by John Hain from Pixabay
This is particularly true for young employees, who are somewhat idealistic and free from challenges like parenthood and mortgages. They put meaning and purpose at the top of their requirements for a good job and are prepared to move if they don’t feel happy in that work.

It's becoming clear that you need more than just salary increases to win the battle for good talent.

Business leaders generally understand the value of purpose; however, employees see it as essential as a way to bring meaning to their work and understand the contributions they are making to the company as well as society. To fully engage, employees must find this meaning in their daily work.

Perhaps the final word on this topic should go to, of all people, US President Joe Biden, who said, “A job is about a lot more than a pay check. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in your community.”

Ian Garner
Ian Garner
Ian Garner is a retired Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI) and the Institute of Directors (FIoD).

Ian is a board member of Maggie’s Yorkshire. Maggie’s provides emotional and practical cancer support and information in centres across the UK and online, with their centre in Leeds based at St James’s Hospital.

He is the founder and director of Practical Solutions Management, a strategic consulting practice, and is skilled in developing strategy and providing strategic direction, specialising in business growth and leadership.