Careers advice: How to find greater meaning in your work
29 March 2022

Caroline Egan, Alumni Careers Manager, regularly coaches alumni from all over the world who are at different stages of their careers. She is seeing a clear and strong trend towards seeking work that is meaningful, rather than just high status or well-paid. In this blog, she explores how those of you who are already working, and those of you who are currently seeking new roles, can use your skills, experience, and values to find or reignite your passion for your career.

Many of us want work that’s meaningful: we want to feel that our jobs make a difference to other people and that we are contributing to the greater good, whether that be to another individual, our team, our employer, to society or the planet. At a time when the world feels very volatile and uncertain, it can be a challenge to find meaning in your day to day work and life. You may wonder, in the grand scheme of things, what is the point of what you do? What is your purpose in life? Is there anything you can do to change your perspective on work or get rid of these negative feelings?

While it’s quite understandable to feel at times as though your work has lost purpose, it’s worth trying to rekindle it. Having a purpose and a professional identity gives our life meaning - it energises and motivates us. Fortunately, re-engaging with your job and reminding yourself of who you are, your purpose, and why you do what you do, doesn’t require too much effort.

There are many different ways you can find purpose in your work:

 

Reflect on your strengths, interests, values and motivations

Strengths and interests

Think about your strengths and what interests you most about your job and see if you can take steps to craft your role to fit with those. If you’re keen to develop, look for training or ways to make new contributions in your job so that your presence at your organisation feels more meaningful. There are often opportunities to join projects within your team or wider teams which fit with your interests. Think about what projects and plans are being made to tackle interesting business challenges which could invigorate your interest in your work.

Values and motivations

Take time to reflect on what you care about and what motivates you. Finding meaning in your work requires you to think about how you’re living your life: how you’re spending your time and how you’re using your skills and abilities. Try asking yourself: what excited you about working at your organisation in the first place?  What drives you? What are your values? What are you good at doing? What contributions do you want to make? How does the work you do have a beneficial effect on others? If you’re lacking inspiration about this, try talking to your colleagues and asking them what they think.

 

Address the stress

In a typical working week, we all endure numerous ‘micro-stresses’ - minor aggravations, such as a colleague disagreeing with you in a meeting, or falling behind on a deadline, which affect your job satisfaction and productivity. There is, however, a simple antidote to this: just as micro-stresses wear us down, moments of pleasure can help you find your way back. Look for ways to feel good and uplifted. Read some good news stories, take a nature walk, spend time doing something you enjoy with people you like, or plan things to look forward such as a holiday or a weekend away.

 

Cultivate compassion (and self-compassion)

It’s well recognised that Covid-19, its economic consequences, and global and political instability, have taken an enormous toll on people’s health and wellbeing over the past two years. People are experiencing immense difficulties all over the world, and our reserves of compassion are also being depleted as we see the suffering of our fellow human beings. While it’s crucial to cultivate compassion, it’s also important to offer yourself some self-compassion. It can be hard to find meaning in your work when you’re feeling worn down by what’s happening in the world.

To help change your perspective, (although it sounds a little cliched), practising the ‘gratitude attitude’ (i.e focusing on the positives in life and the things you have to be grateful for) really works to increase job satisfaction.  

 

Offer your help

In a perfect world, you want to align your purpose with the vision and mission of your organisation, and you want to feel like the work you’re doing is for the greater good. But even if that’s hard to find in the moment, helping others can provide meaning and satisfaction to your working life. You might provide coaching or mentorship to a younger employee, volunteer to pick up the slack for a member of your team who’s struggling, or offer support to a colleague in a different team. You could also look for volunteering opportunities outside your day job (many companies now provide time for their employees to do this). This feeling of ‘giving back’ to society may be just what you need to satisfy your search for greater meaning.

 

Be grateful for, and reach out to your colleagues

Even if you’ve lost your enthusiasm for the mission of your organisation, hopefully there are still peers and colleagues amongst your team whom you respect or admire. Making a concerted effort to connect with and learn from those colleagues can stop your work feeling so transactional. Take time to reflect on why you’re grateful for certain colleagues and take your time to tell them what you admire or appreciate about them. This also helps us to focus on the positives and reduce feelings of negativity at work.

 

Consider a career change but don’t be reckless

Finally, whatever you do, don’t make a rash decision based on a short-term state of mind. If you’re contemplating leaving your job, firstly see if you can improve the current circumstances of your job as suggested above. If that’s not possible, get some advice on how to make the transition to another role or career as seamlessly as possible.

 

WBS offers lifelong careers support and resources to alumni. Please contact alumnicareers@wbs.ac.uk

 

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