7 Ways to Remedy Meaningless Work

A surprising number of Americans are professionally miserable right now. According to data collected by the Conference Board, a nonprofit research organization, 57% of workers told researchers that they were dissatisfied with their jobs. This often caused people to feel like they were wasting their lives and to ask themselves: “When I die, is anyone going to care?”


People want to feel that they’re making the world better no matter how small their contributions. Numerous studies have proven that after meeting workers’ financial needs, additional salary and benefits increases did not provide added job satisfaction.  An example of how meaning influences job satisfaction comes from a study published in 2001 by Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale and Jane Dutton, now a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. They wanted to know why particular janitors at a large hospital were so much more enthusiastic than others. After conducting interviews, they found that some members of the janitorial staff saw their jobs not just as tidying up, but as a form of healing. One woman, for instance, mopped rooms inside a brain-injury unit where many patients were comatose. The woman’s duties were basic: change bedpans and pick up trash. But she also sometimes took the initiative to swap around the pictures on the walls, because she believed a subtle stimulation change in the unconscious patients’ environment might speed their recovery. She talked to other patients about their lives. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” she told the researchers. “That is not really part of my job description, but I like putting on a show for them.” She would dance around, tell jokes to families sitting vigil at bedsides, and try to cheer up or distract everyone from the pain and uncertainty that otherwise surrounded them.


A personal and professional example of how meaning transcends a seemingly negative environment is my wife who is the assistant director at a school for children with severe special needs. At her school,  no one can talk, few can walk, all are medically compromised, and up to the age of 21, no one is toilet trained. It might seem like a very depressing place, but it is anything but that. Numerous undergraduates who have volunteered at the school have described their experience as “life altering.” Many in fact have changed their majors from business to helping professions such as education, nursing, occupational and physical therapy.


Seven  “Take A Ways

  1. Most management teams do not know how to satisfy what their employees want -that their work is meaningful.
  2. No matter how large the paycheck or how many hours a day you work, if you don’t experience meaning, you are wasting your precious time and energy.
  3. You will experience job satisfaction when you feel that what you do really matters.
  4. A workplace that fosters meaningful work is essential for you to attract and retain millennials.
  5. As a leader, you will experience meaning when you help others experience meaningful work.
  6. People find satisfaction and meaning no matter what their positions are by viewing their work as a means to solve other people’s problems.
  7. The desire to help others improve their lives is the essence of transcendent leadership.


Action Step:


Click on the link that describes the Leadership Over Lunch: Transcendent-Based Leadership Online Semester Course which begins on Friday May 4 at 12 ET.