I refer to it as the “feel good work” versus the “work work.” Do you know what I mean?
Yesterday, during one of my walks, I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. Malcom was talking about working hard and why many people do it. He says:
“Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. “
That got me to questioning – what really makes work meaningful? This is a critical question for me to answer at this stage in my life, since now I only want to focus on the “feel good work.”
Psychologist Michael F. Steger has researched what makes meaningful work and concludes that it has three components. Simply stated, for our work to be meaningful, we have to:
- Understand what to do and how to do it
- Know how the work we do fit into the larger picture
- See how that creates a benefit for someone
1. Understand what to do and how to do it
I have witnessed this so many times over my career – people are frustrated with their work because they don’t clearly understand their role and their responsibilities or they don’t have the right training to perform the work. The work we do must make sense. We must know what is being asked of us. We must have the right training and resources to do our job well.
2. Know how the work we do fit into the big picture
The work we do must have a meaning. We must be able to see how the activities we engage in support an important goal or purpose of our organization. When I worked at Avon, we all said that we weren’t just making lipstick, we were focused on helping mothers (the Avon Ladies!) put food on the table or put their children through college. I saw how my work in IT helped the Avon Lady manage her business better so she could earn money to help her family.
3. See how that creates a benefit for someone
The work we do must benefit some greater good. It can have as large an impact as saving a life or just making some co-worker’s job easier. Again, taking Avon as an example, we never had a global management meeting without hearing from one of our Representatives telling how her Avon business helped put food on the table or allowed her to leave an abusive relationship. The stories were endless. I always felt my work was benefiting many people in the world.
Meaningful work = feel good work
Now that I know what makes work meaningful, I am going to make sure any work I accept going forward contains these three components!
I hope this helps those of you who are struggling right now to feel good about your work.
And, by the way, I strongly encourage you to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book. It is fascinating to find out what really contributes to success!