What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless

New research offers insights into what gives work meaning — as well as into common management mistakes that can leave employees feeling that their work is meaningless.

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Meaningful work is something we all want. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl famously described how the innate human quest for meaning is so strong that, even in the direst circumstances, people seek out their purpose in life.1 More recently, researchers have shown meaningfulness to be more important to employees than any other aspect of work, including pay and rewards, opportunities for promotion, or working conditions.2 Meaningful work can be highly motivational, leading to improved performance, commitment, and satisfaction.3 But, so far, surprisingly little research has explored where and how people find their work meaningful and the role that leaders can play in this process.4

We interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations and asked them to tell us stories about incidents or times when they found their work to be meaningful and, conversely, times when they asked themselves, “What’s the point of doing this job?” We expected to find that meaningfulness would be similar to other work-related attitudes, such as engagement or commitment, in that it would arise purely in response to situations within the work environment. However, we found that, unlike these other attitudes, meaningfulness tended to be intensely personal and individual;5 it was often revealed to employees as they reflected on their work and its wider contribution to society in ways that mattered to them as individuals. People tended to speak of their work as meaningful in relation to thoughts or memories of significant family members such as parents or children, bridging the gap between work and the personal realm. We also expected meaningfulness to be a relatively enduring state of mind experienced by individuals toward their work; instead, our interviewees talked of unplanned or unexpected moments during which they found their work deeply meaningful.

We were anticipating that our data would show that the meaningfulness experienced by employees in relation to their work was clearly associated with actions taken by managers, such that, for example, transformational leaders would have followers who found their work meaningful, whereas transactional leaders would not.6 Instead, our research showed that quality of leadership received virtually no mention when people described meaningful moments at work, but poor management was the top destroyer of meaningfulness.

We also expected to find a clear link between the factors that drove up levels of meaningfulness and those that eroded them. Instead, we found that meaningfulness appeared to be driven up and decreased by different factors. Whereas our interviewees tended to find meaningfulness for themselves rather than it being mandated by their managers, we discovered that if employers want to destroy that sense of meaningfulness, that was far more easily achieved. The feeling of “Why am I bothering to do this?” strikes people the instant a meaningless moment arises, and it strikes people hard. If meaningfulness is a delicate flower that requires careful nurturing, think of someone trampling over that flower in a pair of steel-toed boots. Avoiding the destruction of meaning while nurturing an ecosystem generative of feelings of meaningfulness emerged as the key leadership challenge.

The Five Qualities of Meaningful Work

Our research aimed to uncover how and why people find their work meaningful. (See “About the Research.”) For our interviewees, meaningfulness, perhaps unsurprisingly, was often associated with a sense of pride and achievement at a job well done, whether they were professionals or manual workers. Those who could see that they had fulfilled their potential, or who found their work creative, absorbing, and interesting, tended to perceive their work as more meaningful than others. Equally, receiving praise, recognition, or acknowledgment from others mattered a great deal.7 These factors alone were not enough to render work meaningful, however.8 Our study also revealed five unexpected features of meaningful work; in these, we find clues that might explain the fragile and intangible nature of meaningfulness.

1. Self-Transcendent

Individuals tended to experience their work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves. In this way, meaningful work is self-transcendent. Although it is not a well-known fact, the famous motivation theorist Abraham Maslow positioned self-transcendence at the apex of his pyramid of human motivation, situating it beyond even self-actualization in importance.9 People did not just talk about themselves when they talked about meaningful work; they talked about the impact or relevance their work had for other individuals, groups, or the wider environment. For example, a garbage collector explained how he found his work meaningful at the “tipping point” at the end of the day when refuse was sent to recycling. This was the time he could see how his work contributed to creating a clean environment for his grandchildren and for future generations. An academic described how she found her work meaningful when she saw her students graduate at the commencement ceremony, a tangible sign of how her own hard work had helped others succeed. A priest talked about the uplifting and inspiring experience of bringing an entire community together around the common goal of a church restoration project.

2. Poignant

The experience of meaningful work can be poignant rather than purely euphoric.10 People often found their work to be full of meaning at moments associated with mixed, uncomfortable, or even painful thoughts and feelings, not just a sense of unalloyed joy and happiness. People often cried in our interviews when they talked about the times when they found their work meaningful. The current emphasis on positive psychology has led us to focus on trying to make employees happy, engaged, and enthused throughout the working day. Psychologist Barbara Held refers to the current pressure to “accentuate the positive” as the “tyranny of the positive attitude.”11 Traditionally, meaningfulness has been linked with such positive attributes.

Our research suggests that, contrary to what we may have thought, meaningfulness is not always a positive experience.12 In fact, those moments when people found their work meaningful tended to be far richer and more challenging than times when they felt simply motivated, engaged, or happy. The most vivid examples of this came from nurses who described moments of profound meaningfulness when they were able to use their professional skills and knowledge to ease the passing of patients at the end of their lives. Lawyers often talked about working hard for extended periods, sometimes years, for their clients and winning cases that led to life-changing outcomes. Participants in several of the occupational groups found moments of meaningfulness when they had triumphed in difficult circumstances or had solved a complex, intractable problem. The experience of coping with these challenging conditions led to a sense of meaningfulness far greater than they would have experienced dealing with straightforward, everyday situations.

3. Episodic

A sense of meaningfulness arose in an episodic rather than a sustained way. It seemed that no one could find their work consistently meaningful, but rather that an awareness that work was meaningful arose at peak times that were generative of strong experiences. For example, a university professor talked of the euphoric experience of feeling “like a rock star” at the end of a successful lecture. One actor we spoke to summed this feeling up well: “My God, I’m actually doing what I dreamt I could do; that’s kind of amazing.” Clearly, sentiments such as these are not sustainable over the course of even one single working day, let alone a longer period, but rather come and go over one’s working life, perhaps rarely arising. Nevertheless, these peak experiences have a profound effect on individuals, are highly memorable, and become part of their life narratives.

Meaningful moments such as these were not forced or managed. Only in a few instances did people tell us that an awareness of their work as meaningful arose directly through the actions of organizational leaders or managers. Conservation stonemasons talked of the significance of carving their “banker’s mark” or mason’s signature into the stone before it was placed into a cathedral structure, knowing that the stone might be uncovered hundreds of years in the future by another mason who would recognize the work as theirs. They felt they were “part of history.” One soldier described how he realized how meaningful his work was when he reflected on his quick thinking in setting off the warning sirens in a combat situation, ensuring that no one at the camp was injured in the ensuing rocket attack. Sales assistants talked about times when they were able to help others, such as an occasion when a customer passed out in one store and the clerk was able to support her until she regained consciousness. Memorable moments such as these contain high levels of emotion and personal relevance, and thus become redolent of the symbolic meaningfulness of work.

4. Reflective

In the instances cited above, it was often only when we asked the interviewees to recount a time when they found their work meaningful that they developed a conscious awareness of the significance of these experiences. Meaningfulness was rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people were able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning.

One of the entrepreneurs we interviewed talked about the time when he was switching the lights out after his company’s Christmas party and paused to reflect back over the year on what he and his employees had achieved together. Garbage collectors explained how they were able to find their work meaningful when they finished cleaning a street and stopped to look back at their work. In doing this, they reflected on how the tangible work of street sweeping contributed to the cleanliness of the environment as a whole. One academic talked about research he had done for many years that seemed fairly meaningless at the time, but 20 years later provided the technological solution for touch-screen technology. The experience of meaningfulness is therefore often a thoughtful, retrospective act rather than just a spontaneous emotional response in the moment, although people may be aware of a rush of good feelings at the time. You are unlikely to witness someone talking about how meaningful they find their job during their working day. For most of the people we spoke to, the discussions we had about meaningful work were the first time they had ever talked about these experiences.

5. Personal

Other feelings about work, such as engagement or satisfaction, tend to be just that: feelings about work. Work that is meaningful, on the other hand, is often understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences. We found that managers and even organizations actually mattered relatively little at these times. One musician described his profound sense of meaningfulness when his father attended a performance of his for the first time and finally came to appreciate and understand the musician’s work. A priest was able to find a sense of meaning in her work when she could relate the harrowing personal experiences of a member of her congregation to her own life events, and used that understanding to help and support her congregant at a time of personal tragedy. An entrepreneur’s motivation to start his own business included the desire to make his grandfather proud of him. The customary dinner held to mark the end of a soldier’s service became imbued with meaning for one soldier because it was shared with family members who were there to hear her army stories. One lawyer described how she found her work meaningful when her services were recommended by friends and family and she felt trusted and valued in both spheres of her life. A garbage collector described the time when the community’s water supply became contaminated and he was asked to work on distributing water to local residents; that was meaningful, as he could see how he was helping vulnerable neighbors.

Moments of especially profound meaningfulness arose when these experiences coalesced with the sense of a job well done, one recognized and appreciated by others. One example of many came from a conservation stonemason who described how his work became most meaningful to him when the restoration of a section of the cathedral he had been working on for years was unveiled, the drapes and scaffolding withdrawn, and the work of the craftsmen celebrated. This event involved all the masons and other trades such as carpenters and glaziers, as well as the cathedral’s religious leaders, members of the public, and local dignitaries. “Everyone goes, ‘Doesn’t it look amazing?’” he said. “That’s the moment you realize you’ve saved something and ensured its future; you’ve given part of the cathedral back to the local community.”

These particular features of meaningful work suggest that the organizational task of helping people find meaning in their work is complex and profound, going far beyond the relative superficialities of satisfaction or engagement — and almost never related to one’s employer or manager.

Meaninglessness: The Seven Deadly Sins

What factors serve to destroy the fragile sense of meaningfulness that individuals find in their work? Interestingly, the factors that seem to drive a sense of meaninglessness and futility around work were very different from those associated with meaningfulness. The experiences that actively led people to ask, “Why am I doing this?” were generally a function of how people were treated by managers and leaders. Interviewees noted seven things that leaders did to create a feeling of meaninglessness (listed in order from most to least grievous).

1. Disconnect people from their values. Although individuals did not talk much about value congruence as a promoter of meaningfulness, they often talked about a disconnect between their own values and those of their employer or work group as the major cause of a sense of futility and meaninglessness.13 This issue was raised most frequently as a source of meaninglessness in work. A recurring theme was the tension between an organizational focus on the bottom line and the individual’s focus on the quality or professionalism of work. One stonemason commented that he found the organization’s focus on cost “deeply depressing.” Academics spoke of their administrations being most interested in profits and the avoidance of litigation, instead of intellectual integrity and the provision of the best possible education. Nurses spoke despairingly of being forced to send patients home before they were ready in order to free up bed space. Lawyers talked of a focus on profits rather than on helping clients.

2. Take your employees for granted. Lack of recognition for hard work by organizational leaders was frequently cited as invoking a feeling of pointlessness. Academics talked about department heads who didn’t acknowledge their research or teaching successes; sales assistants and priests talked of bosses who did not thank them for taking on additional work. A stonemason described the way managers would not even say “good morning” to him, and lawyers described how, despite putting in extremely long hours, they were still criticized for not moving through their work quickly enough. Feeling unrecognized, unacknowledged, and unappreciated by line or senior managers was often cited in the interviews as a major reason people found their work pointless.

3. Give people pointless work to do. We found that individuals had a strong sense of what their job should involve and how they should be spending their time, and that a feeling of meaninglessness arose when they were required to perform tasks that did not fit that sense. Nurses, academics, artists, and clergy all cited bureaucratic tasks and form filling not directly related to their core purpose as a source of futility and pointlessness. Stonemasons and retail assistants cited poorly planned projects where they were left to “pick up the pieces” by senior managers. A retail assistant described the pointless task of changing the shop layout one week on instructions from the head office, only to be told to change it back again a week later.

4. Treat people unfairly. Unfairness and injustice can make work feel meaningless. Forms of unfairness ranged from distributive injustices, such as one stonemason who was told he could not have a pay raise for several years due to a shortage of money but saw his colleague being given a raise, to freelance musicians being asked to write a film score without payment. Procedural injustices included bullying and lack of opportunities for career progression.

5. Override people’s better judgment. Quite often, a sense of meaninglessness was connected with a feeling of disempowerment or disenfranchisement over how work was done. One nurse, for example, described how a senior colleague required her to perform a medical intervention that was not procedurally correct, and how she felt obliged to complete this even against her better judgment. Lawyers talked of being forced to cut corners to finish cases quickly. Stonemasons described how being forced to “hurry up” using modern tools and techniques went against their sense of historic craft practices. One priest summed up the role of the manager by saying, “People can feel empowered or disempowered by the way you run things.” When people felt they were not being listened to, that their opinions and experience did not count, or that they could not have a voice, then they were more likely to find their work meaningless.

6. Disconnect people from supportive relationships. Feelings of isolation or marginalization at work were linked with meaninglessness. This could occur through deliberate ostracism on the part of managers, or just through feeling disconnected from coworkers and teams. Most interviewees talked of the importance of camaraderie and relations with coworkers for their sense of meaningfulness. Entrepreneurs talked about their sense of loneliness and meaninglessness during the startup phase of their business, and the growing sense of meaningfulness that arose as the business developed and involved more people with whom they could share the successes. Creative artists spoke of times when they were unable to reach out to an audience through their art as times of profound meaninglessness.

7. Put people at risk of physical or emotional harm. Many jobs entail physical or emotional risks, and those taking on this kind of work generally appreciate and understand the choices they have made. However, unnecessaryem> exposure to risk was associated with lost meaningfulness. Nurses cited feelings of vulnerability when left alone with aggressive patients; garbage collectors talked of avoidable accidents they had experienced at work; and soldiers described exposure to extreme weather conditions without the appropriate gear.

These seven destroyers emerged as highly damaging to an individual’s sense of his or her work as meaningful. When several of these factors were present, meaningfulness was considerably lower.

Cultivating an Ecosystem For Meaningfulness

In the 1960s, Frederick Herzberg showed that the factors that give rise to a sense of job satisfaction are not the same as those that lead to feelings of dissatisfaction.14 It seems that something similar is true for meaningfulness. Our research shows that meaningfulness is largely something that individuals find for themselves in their work,15 but meaninglessness is something that organizations and leaders can actively cause. Clearly, the first challenge to building a satisfied workforce is to avoid the seven deadly sins that drive up levels of meaninglessness.

Given that meaningfulness is such an intensely personal and individual experience that is interpreted by individuals in the context of their wider lives, can organizations create an environment that cultivates high levels of meaningfulness? The key to meaningful work is to create an ecosystem that encourages people to thrive. As other scholars have argued,16 efforts to control and proscribe the meaningfulness that individuals inherently find in their work can paradoxically lead to its loss.

Our interviews and a wider reading of the literature on meaningfulness point to four elements that organizations can address that will help foster an integrated sense of holistic meaningfulness for individual employees.17 (See “The Elements of a Meaningfulness Ecosystem.”)

1. Organizational Meaningfulness

At the macro level, meaningfulness is more likely to thrive when employees understand the broad purpose of the organization.18 This purpose should be formulated in such a way that it focuses on the positive contribution of the organization to the wider society or the environment. This involves articulating the following:

  • What does the organization aim to contribute? What is its “core business”?
  • How does the organization aspire to go about achieving this? What values underpin its way of doing business?

This needs to be done in a genuine and thoughtful way. People are highly adept at spotting hypocrisy, like the nurses who were told their hospital put patients first but were also told to discharge people as quickly as possible. The challenge lies not only in articulating and conveying a clear message about organizational purpose, but also in not undermining meaningfulness by generating a sense of artificiality and manipulation.19

Reaching employees in ways that make sense to them can be a challenge. A clue for addressing this comes from the garbage collectors we interviewed. One described to us how the workers used to be told by management that the waste they returned to the depot would be recycled, but this message came across as highly abstract. Then the company started putting pictures of the items that were made from recycled waste on the side of the garbage trucks. This led to a more tangible realization of what the waste was used for.20

2. Job Meaningfulness

The vast majority of interviewees found their work meaningful, whether they were musicians, sales assistants, lawyers, or garbage collectors. Studies have shown that meaning is so important to people that they actively go about recrafting their jobs to enhance their sense of meaningfulness.21 Often, this recrafting involves extending the impact or significance of their role for others. One example of this was sales assistants in a large retail store who listened to lonely elderly customers.

Organizations can encourage people to see their work as meaningful by demonstrating how jobs fit with the organization’s broader purpose or serve a wider, societal benefit. The priests we spoke to often explained how their ministry work in their local parishes contributed to the wider purpose of the church as a whole. In the same way, managers can be encouraged to show employees what their particular jobs contribute to the broader whole and how what they do will help others or create a lasting legacy.22

Alongside this, we need to challenge the notion that meaningfulness can only arise from positive work experiences. Challenging, problematic, sad, or poignant23 jobs have the potential to be richly generative of new insights and meaningfulness, and overlooking this risks upsetting the delicate balance of the meaningfulness ecosystem. Providing support to people at the end of their lives is a harrowing experience for nurses and clergy, yet they cited these times as among the most meaningful. The task for leaders is to acknowledge the problematic or negative side of some jobs and to provide appropriate support for employees doing them, yet to reveal in an honest way the benefits and broader contribution that such jobs make.24

3. Task Meaningfulness

Given that jobs typically comprise a wide range of tasks, it stands to reason that some of these tasks will constitute a greater source of meaningfulness than others.25 To illustrate, a priest will have responsibility for leading acts of worship, supporting sick and vulnerable individuals, developing community relations and activities, and probably a wide range of other tasks such as raising funds, managing assistants and volunteers, ensuring the upkeep of church buildings, and so on. In fact, the priests were the most hard-working group that we spoke to, with the majority working a seven-day week on a bewildering range of activities. Even much simpler jobs will involve several different tasks. One of the challenges facing organizations is to help people understand how the individual tasks they perform contribute to their job and to the organization as a whole.

When individuals described some of the sources of meaninglessness they faced in their work, they often talked about how to come to terms with the tedious, repetitive, or indeed purposeless work that is part of almost every job. For example, the stonemasons described how the first few months of their training involved learning to “square the stone,” which involves chiseling a large block of stone into a perfectly formed square with just a few millimeters of tolerance on each plane. As soon as they finished one, they had to start another, repeating this over and over until the master mason was satisfied that they had perfected the task. Only then were they allowed to work on more interesting and intricate carvings. Several described their feelings of boredom and futility; one said that he had taken 18 attempts to get the squaring of the stone correct. “It feels like you are never ever going to get better,” he recalled. Many felt like giving up at this point, fearing that stonemasonry was not for them. It was only in later years, as they looked back on this period in their working lives, that they could see the point of this detailed level of training as the first step on their path to more challenging and rewarding work.

Filling out forms, cited earlier, is another good example of meaningless work. Individuals in a wide range of occupations all reported that what they perceived as “mindless bureaucracy” sapped the meaningfulness from their work. For instance, most of the academics we spoke to were highly negative about the amount of form filling the job entailed. One said, “I was dropping spreadsheets into a huge black hole.”

Where organizations successfully managed the context within which these necessary but tedious tasks were undertaken, the tasks came to be perceived not exactly as meaningful, but equally as not meaningless. Another academic said, “I’m pretty good with tedious work, as long as it’s got a larger meaning.”

4. Interactional Meaningfulness

There is widespread agreement that people find their work meaningful in an interactional context in two ways:26 First, when they are in contact with others who benefit from their work; and, second, in an environment of supportive interpersonal relationships.27 As we saw earlier, negative interactional experiences — such as bullying by a manager, lack of respect or recognition, or forcing reduced contact with the beneficiaries of work — all drive up a sense of meaninglessness, since the employee receives negative cues from others about the value they place on the employee’s work.28 The challenge here is for leaders to create a supportive, respectful, and inclusive work climate among colleagues, between employees and managers, and between organizational staff and work beneficiaries. It also involves recognizing the importance of creating space in the working day for meaningful interactions where employees are able to give and receive positive feedback, communicate a sense of shared values and belonging, and appreciate how their work has positive impacts on others.

Not surprisingly, the most striking examples of the impact of interactional meaningfulness on people came from the caring occupations included in our study: nurses and clergy. In these cases, there was very frequent contact between the individual and the direct beneficiaries of his or her work, most often in the context of supporting and healing people at times of great vulnerability in their lives. Witnessing firsthand, and hearing directly, about how their work had changed people’s lives created a work environment conducive to meaningfulness. Although prior research29 has similarly highlighted the importance of such direct contact for enhancing work’s meaningfulness, we also found that past or future generations, or imagined future beneficiaries, could play a role. This was the case for the stonemasons who felt connected to past and future generations of masons through their bankers’ marks on the back of the stones and for the garbage collectors who could envisage how their work contributed to the living environment for future generations.

Holistic Meaningfulness

The four elements of the meaningfulness ecosystem combine to enable a state of holistic meaningfulness, where the synergistic benefits of multiple sources of meaningfulness can be realized.30 Although it is possible for someone to describe meaningful moments in terms of any one of the subsystems, meaningfulness is enriched when more than one or all of these are present.31 A sales assistant, for example, described how she had been working with a team on the refurbishment of her store: “We’d all been there until 2 a.m., working together moving stuff, everyone had contributed and stayed late and helped, it was a good time. We were exhausted but we still laughed and then the next morning we were all bright in our uniforms, it was a lovely feeling, just like a little family coming together. The day [the store] opened, it did bring tears to my eyes. We had a little gathering and a speech; the managers said ‘thank you’ to everybody because everyone had contributed.”

Finding work meaningful is an experience that reaches beyond the workplace and into the realm of the individual’s wider personal life. It can be a very profound, moving, and even uncomfortable experience. It arises rarely and often in unexpected ways; it gives people pause for thought — not just concerning work but what life itself is all about. In experiencing work as meaningful, we cease to be workers or employees and relate as human beings, reaching out in a bond of common humanity to others. For organizations seeking to manage meaningfulness, the ethical and moral responsibility is great, since they are bridging the gap between work and personal life.

Yet the benefits for individuals and organizations that accrue from meaningful workplaces can be immense. Organizations that succeed in this are more likely to attract, retain, and motivate the employees they need to build sustainably for the future, and to create the kind of workplaces where human beings can thrive.



1. V.E. Frankl, “Man’s Search For Meaning” (Boston: Beacon Press, 1959).

2. W.F. Cascio, “Changes in Workers, Work, and Organizations,” vol. 12, chap. 16 in “Handbook of Psychology,” ed. W. Borman, R. Klimoski, and D. Ilgen (New York: Wiley, 2003).

3. M.G. Pratt and B.E. Ashforth, “Fostering Meaningfulness in Working and at Work,” in “Positive Organizational Scholarship,” ed. K.S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton, and R.E. Quinn (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2003).

4. C. Bailey, R. Yeoman, A. Madden, M. Thompson, and G. Kerridge, “A Narrative Evidence Synthesis of Meaningful Work: Progress and Research Agenda” (paper to be presented at the U.S. Academy of Management Conference, Anaheim, California, Aug. 5-9, 2016); and M.G. Pratt, C. Pradies, and D.A. Lepisto, “Doing Well, Doing Good, and Doing With: Organizational Practices For Effectively Cultivating Meaningful Work,” in “Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace,” ed. B.J. Dik, Z.S. Byrne, and M.F. Steger (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2013), 173-196.

5. We have defined meaningful work as arising “when an individual perceives an authentic connection between their work and a broader transcendent life purpose beyond the self.” See C. Bailey and A. Madden, “Time Reclaimed: Temporality and the Experience of Meaningful Work,” Work, Employment, & Society (October 2015), doi: 10.1177/0950017015604100. Meaningfulness is therefore different from engagement, which is defined as a positive work-related attitude comprising vigor, dedication, and absorption. See W.B. Schaufeli, “What Is Engagement?,” in “Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice,” ed. C. Truss, K. Alfes, R. Delbridge, A. Shantz, and E. Soane (London: Routledge, 2014), 15-35.

6. K. Arnold, N. Turner, J. Barling, E.K. Kelloway, and M.C. McKee, “Transformational Leadership and Psychological Wellbeing: The Mediating Role of Meaningful Work,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 12, no. 3 (July 2007): 193-203.

7. M. Lips-Wiersma and S. Wright, “Measuring the Meaning of Meaningful Work: Development and Validation of the Comprehensive Meaningful Work Scale,” Group & Organization Management 37, no. 5 (October 2012): 665-685.

8. B.D. Rosso, K.H. Dekas, and A. Wrzesniewski, “On the Meaning of Work: A Theoretical Integration and Review,” Research in Organizational Behavior 30 (2010): 91-127.

9. A. Maslow, “Motivation and Personality” (New York: Harper and Row, 1954).

10. H. Ersner-Hershfield, J.A. Mikels, S.J. Sullivan, and L.L. Carstensen, “Poignancy: Mixed Emotional Experience in the Face of Meaningful Endings,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94, no. 1 (January 2008): 158-167.

11. B.S. Held, “The Tyranny of the Positive Attitude in America: Observation and Speculation,” Journal of Clinical Psychology 58, no. 9 (September 2002): 965-991.

12. J.S. Bunderson and J.A. Thompson, “The Call of the Wild: Zookeepers, Callings, and the Double-Edged Sword of Deeply Meaningful Work,” Administrative Science Quarterly 54, no.1 (March 2009): 32-57.

13. S. Cartwright and N. Holmes, “The Meaning of Work: The Challenge of Regaining Employee Engagement and Reducing Cynicism,” Human Resource Management Review 16, no. 2 (June 2006): 199-208.

14. F. Herzberg, “The Motivation-Hygiene Concept and Problems of Manpower,” Personnel Administrator 27, no. 1 (1964): 3-7.

15. M. Lips-Wiersma and L. Morris, “Discriminating Between ‘Meaningful Work’ and the ‘Management of Meaning,’” Journal of Business Ethics 88, no. 3 (September 2009): 491-511.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. N. Chalofsky, “Meaningful Workplaces” (San Francisco: Wiley, 2010); and F.O. Walumbwa, A.L. Christensen, and M.K. Muchiri, “Transformational Leadership and Meaningful Work,” in Dik, Byrne, and Steger, “Purpose and Meaning,” 197-215.

19. J.M. Podolny, R. Khurana, and M. Hill-Popper, “Revisiting the Meaning of Leadership,” Research in Organizational Behavior 26 (2004), doi:10.1016/S0191-3085(04)26001-4.

20. Organizational theorist Marya L. Besharov highlights the challenge of managing in an organizational setting where employees have differing views over which values matter the most and points out the “dark side” of seeking to impose a unitary organizational ideology on employees. Based on our research, we take the view here that in general terms employees welcome a broad statement of organizational purpose and values that gives them the space to interpret it in a way that is meaningful for them. See M.L. Besharov, “The Relational Ecology of Identification: How Organizational Identification Emerges When Individuals Hold Divergent Values,” Academy of Management Journal 57, no. 5 (October 2014): 1485-1512.

21. A. Wrzesniewski and J.E. Dutton, “Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work,” Academy of Management Review 26, no. 2 (April 2001): 179-201; and J.M. Berg, J.E. Dutton, and A. Wrzesniewski, “Job Crafting and Meaningful Work,” in Dik, Byrne, and Steger, “Purpose and Meaning,” 81-104.

22. B.E. Ashforth and G.E. Kreiner, “Profane or Profound? Finding Meaning in Dirty Work,” in Dik, Byrne, and Steger, “Purpose and Meaning,” 127-150.

23. Held, “Tyranny of the Positive Attitude”; and Ersner-Hershfield et al., “Poignancy: Mixed Emotional Experience.”

24. Lips-Wiersma and Morris, “Discriminating Between ‘Meaningful Work.’”

25. A. Grant, “Relational Job Design and the Motivation to Make a Prosocial Difference,” Academy of Management Review 32, no. 2 (2007): 393-417.

26. Lips-Wiersma and Wright, “Measuring the Meaning.”

27. A. Grant, “Leading With Meaning: Beneficiary Contact, Prosocial Impact, and the Performance Effects of Transformational Leadership,” Academy of Management Journal 55, no. 2 (April 2012): 458-476.

28. A. Wrzesniewski, J.E. Dutton, and G. Debebe, “Interpersonal Sensemaking and the Meaning of Work,” Research in Organizational Behavior 25 (2003): 93-135.

29. Grant, “Leading With Meaning.”

30. Lips-Wiersma and Wright, “Measuring the Meaning.”

31. N. Chalofsky, “An Emerging Construct for Meaningful Work,” Human Resource Development International 6, no. 1 (2003): 69-83.

i. Bailey and Madden, “Time Reclaimed: Temporality and the Experience.”

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Comments (61)
Gerelmaa Ulziibayar
This article is a good one to circle back to every now and then. With everything moving so fast these days, what people want out of their jobs keeps changing. It used to be all about the paycheck and climbing the ladder, but now it's more about feeling good about what you do and looking for that deeper satisfaction instead of just the quick wins. We've got to keep our eyes on the ball and make sure we're giving our team the right kind of props and making sure their personal goals vibe with where the company's headed. If you don't have that sense of achievement or you're not feeling it, it's pretty tough to stay on track.
Tausief Haleem
Excellent and thoughtful article on what makes the work meaningful.
Gabriela Oliveira
Comunicação clara e um proprósito definido motiva a equipe, A desmotivação ocorre quando deixamos de executar esas ações.

[Clear communication and a defined purpose motivates the team. Demotivation occurs when we fail to carry out these actions.]
Manoj Adhikari
Insightful article. Really Helpful. Well Thought out.
Guilherme Almeida
Artigo propício aos dias em que vivemos. A busca do propósito de vida vai de encontro com questões simples, mas que geram dúvidas em quase todos. Quase que uma "pulga atrás da orelha", tem assolado as noites em claro de quem se preocupado com seu futuro e legado. 
É importante pensar no futuro, em como o mundo estará daqui uma década e o que estamos fazendo por ele. Nosso propósito de vida se alinha com questões da vida, encontrar ele é como viver uma vida com alegrias e frustações, porém, fazendo o mínimo de bem ao próximo.

[This article is suitable for the days we live in. The search for the purpose of life goes against simple questions, but which generate doubts in almost everyone. Almost like a “flea behind the ear”, it has plagued the sleepless nights of those worried about their future and legacy. It is important to think about the future, about what the world will be like in a decade and what we are doing for it. Our life purpose aligns with life's questions, finding it is like living a life with joys and frustrations, however, doing the least amount of good for others.]
Pearl PF
This article is an interesting read to be referred to from time to time as a refresher.  In this face paced environment, people's situation keeps on evolving and it is important to appreciate what makes work meaningful.  At one point in time, it could be a better salary, promotion, etc, but society has changed, and emphasis is put on what makes some one happy (feeling of accomplishment, long term value as opposed to short term rewards.  It is important to keep on re-assessing the environment we are currently in and find ways to encourage team members and find ways to align their aspiration with the firm's purpose and vision.  Without a sense a balance and accomplishment, it is difficult to keep moving forward.
Gaayathridevi Ravi
The article offers valuable insights into what drives employees to find their work meaningful or meaningless. It emphasizes the importance of task significance, autonomy, interpersonal relationships, fairness, and alignment with personal values in fostering a sense of meaning in the workplace. Organizations can benefit from understanding and addressing these factors to enhance employee engagement and satisfaction.
Aaron McCullough
This was an amazing read! A lot of the meaningful section is something I can relate to both with some of my previous jobs and also my current one as well. Being able to provide an impactful service to the client and also working with teams that become personal brings about a deep and positive feeling while working.
deepanshu mangla
I agree with this article. Very insightful information provided in this article.
Sandeep Baranwal
Excellent and thoughtful article on what makes the work meaningful.
Rohan Vij
Very insightful, thanks for sharing!
Helen Christy
Very Helpful. Understood the meaning of life in a different perspective and the value it brings.
Rodolfo Martins
Interesting and helpful content to understand Purposes and Meaning in Life.
Fatima Andra Flores Felizardo
I agree that meaningful work is more than the award and recognition, it should involve alignment with your values, have a sense of accomplishment and can contribute to a greater purpose.
Rohan Vij
Very thoughtful subject & reading offering on evergreen subject. I'm able to feel that I'm actually doing a meaningful work.
Nancy Ekwerike
Very insightful research validating my own intuitive thinking. Very timely too for me personally as I currently engaged in a project aiming to enhance client engagement.
Blaze Coyle
Completely agree that meaningfulness and purpose are ultimately more important than money and awards. In a similar vain, the idea of one's own legacy. Great read, thank you!
Lorren Cargill
As a founder and leader, I would absolutely recommend this article to friends and colleagues. As we challenge the role work plays in our life while searching for meaning, the provide significant clarity.  I would also recommend several of the source materials.
Blaze Coyle
Thoroughly enjoyed this read! Thank you for conducting the research and sharing.
Rich Hayes
Very insightful article that resonated with my personal experiences.  Would recommend this article to friends and co-workers.
Alex Guo
This was a great article that gave me valuable insight as to what it means to be more than just an employee at a company. It opened my eyes about how I am able to grow from my experiences and use them to further my career.
Bhavisha Jogi
Finding Meaning has been hot topic of discussion in corporate, based on the findings of this review, the researchers defined meaningful work as arising "when an individual perceives an authentic connection between work and a broader transcendent life purpose beyond the self.
olivia davis
I found this article very interesting and insightful towards what occupies almost all organization's gratitude to their employees as a whole, valuing every detail, just as employees value and strive for every detail, allowing them to enter and make part of their personal purposes as one together with that of the firm. I would like to add that vocation is also key in meaningful work. That's a powerful motivation.
Ruchi Chaturvedi
Very enlightening article. After reading I am able to reflect in more depth about my profile, the company I am part of. And I understand the weight this has on my personal and professional life. It will be great if the company/organization - you work for -recognizes the efforts that you contribute every day.
Chimbirai Chimbirai
This article was enlightening. There are various things I can resonate with in the article such as the correlation between meaningfulness at work and quality of management. In my experience, poor management do tend to affect how people view their work - it becomes less meaningful the more poorly the people are managed. One thing I did find interesting was the fact that quality of leadership had little to no impact on meaningfulness. I always thought there was a positive correlation between leadership quality and how employees view their work to be meaningful/important.
Gessika Sousa
Excellent article. And it really made me think in hindsight of all the jobs I've had over the course of my life. Some jobs I just gave up because it gave me a deep discouragement to get up every day and face infinite spreadsheets and reports that I couldn't understand the meaning. Today I already consider myself a more mature person and able to reflect in more depth about the work I do and the company I am part of. And I understand the weight this has on my personal and professional life.
Imelda Pedrero
This topic is very relevant in today's fast changing environment.  It helps individual to find the meaning and worth of oneself which leads to a ripple effect to their colleagues and eventually organization develop a transformative leaders.

Imelda Pedrero
Hongshin Yoon
Very Insightful, Not only I should make meaningful work to myself, but also I should not make others work unmeaningful
Gabriela Ilha
Excelente leitura. A grande motivação das ações está sempre atrelada a um propósito (ou sentido) maior ao indivíduo e por isso mesmo tantas vezes não compreendemos porque determinadas ações são priorizadas em um contexto que não estamos 100% alinhados.
O trabalho de valor está condicionado ao impacto que gero para meu time, ao negócio e ao contexto e pessoas interessadas. A desmotivação ocorre quando deixamos de executar ações com significados claros e reais. Texto perfeito!
Muhammad Rushan Khan
Just read this article and found it really indulgent. Really like the way how the 5 qualities and 7 deadly sins have been laid out, I have witnessed/ experienced most of these first handedly or know someone who has experienced this. Further, cultivating the ecosystem for meaningfulness has laid out really practical steps that can be implemented on smaller and a larger scale as well.
Louise Turner
I thoroughly enjoyed the article on Meaningfulness and Meaninglessness.  The topics were insightful and interesting.  Including employees and explaining how important it is to understand the broad purpose of the organization and what that mean for the employee's personal growth.  It is great that the organization recognizes your efforts that you contribute every day.
Komal Bhise
This article explains how a meaningful work can become meaningless, if the company and the higher authorities don't have the value system and are just forcing people to work without giving them proper credits and purpose of work.
Rajesh Kumar C
This article throws light on what is 'Meaningfulness', which tended to be intensely personal and individual. It also discusses the unplanned or unexpected moments during which people find their work deeply meaningful. Also, it states that meaningfulness is fragile and intangible in nature . Further, the research shows that people did not just talk about themselves when they talked about meaningful work. Surprisingly, meaningfulness is not always a positive experience and is in retrospect and on reflection. It is also found that no one could find their work consistently meaningful i.e. it is episodic. The first challenge to building a satisfied workforce is to avoid the seven deadly sins that drive up levels of meaninglessness and create an ecosystem that encourages people to thrive. This article sums up that in experiencing work as meaningful, people cease to be workers or employees and relate as human beings, reaching out in a bond of common humanity to others.
I think the topic is interesting because when you enjoy what you do, the results you get are better.
You have to find an organization where the personal purpose is intertwined with your purpose, where you can perceive that your work is valued and recognized and that in this way you contribute to the growth of the company where you work, it is also important that the company recognizes your efforts.
Kris Wei
Insightful and meaningful article, thanks for sharing!
LaJuan Huff
Good read!  This article provided great insight on job worth and gave great perspective.
Montse Carrasco-Gallardo
I found this article very interesting and insightful towards a topic which occupies almost a third out of our everyday lives. In my personal experience of over twenty years, companies and society in general are becoming more aware of the importance of meaningful work and are changing step by step into creating more meaningful workspaces and philosophies. We also, as individuals and human beings, should contribute as much as we can in creating and, even more difficult, maintaining a healthy working atmosphere, avoiding all seven deadly sins. In my personal opinion, I would like to add that vocation is also key in meaningful work. That's a powerful motivation.
Claire Hu
It is a very good and insightful topic. I learned a lot and would try to follow these advice to make work meaningful.
Daniel Solorzano
It is very challenging to develop a meaningful environment for us as a leaders, but this article give us an excellent understanding and very important information in how to accomplish this challenge.
Crystal Wan
Very insightful, thanks for sharing!
Samantha Widmer
Very meaningful article. Thank you for sharing.
Paula Barcarse
It was a very meaningful article, providing message to the workforce. I definitely agree that a good work ethic work can be very motivating and lead to and improved performance, and greater satisfaction.
Very interesting topic and insightful. Learnt about defining and assigning meaningful work to team will help them to grow and feel inclusive with the process. This article will help me a lot in future with my role.
Hashim Syed
Indeed a very meaningful article - giving a very important message to the workforce. I definitely agree that a good work ethic work can be very motivating and lead to and improved performance, and greater satisfaction.
daisuke arikura
Very interesting to read and insightful. I have never imagined that what makes people meaninglessness. I should keep them in my mind when I work as a leader.
Gaurab Banerjee
Meaningful work allows the employee to feel that they are part of the company as a whole. They feel belonged.
Pearl Panthaki
Excellent article. Lots of tips to ponder over
Henrique Marcondes
Very insightful research validating my own intuitive thinking. Very timely also for me personally, because i currently got involved in a very difficult project and that involves many people in a team.
sakshi Jain
A very insightful Article on understanding the traits / factors that contribute towrds making work feel meanging ful or not. A good read!
Steven Meng
The knowledge in this article is very useful for me, and I will use the knowledge learned from this article into my work in the future.
Lisa Booze
Meaningful work allows the employee to feel he/she is apart of the company as a whole.  Adding a voice has a greater impact on the person purpose of choosing the company, in which they chose to work.  They feel valued, recognized and acknowledged.
Maricris See
Excellent article. This is the reason why it's really necessary to choose a job or profession that can make a person satisfied, not in terms of pecuniary benefit, but in terms of fulfilling our purpose by creating value to other people's lives and society.
Jean Pierre López Bustos
When you enjoy what you do, the results are more efficient and significant, adding greater value to the purpose of the Organization, and it is here when the personal purpose is meshed with the organizational purpose, and it becomes a single relationship for the employee, seeing and perceiving that their work is valued and recognized, contributing to joint growth (long-term results). Likewise, those tasks (challenges) that start as a challenge are added, which are not easy to execute and achieve, however, when the achievement is reached, the emotional satisfaction is greater. Another important point is that no matter how “minimal” the work may be, when the employee understands and understands that his participation is part of a whole operation, he understands that being in the Company is Significant. Therefore, it is important that Organizations give importance and gratitude to their employees as a whole, valuing every detail, just as employees value and strive for every detail, allowing them to enter and make part of their personal purposes as one together with that of the organizations.
Chandra Pandey
A very thoughtful  subject & reading offering on evergreen subject.
Some commentators have argued that it is not the role of the corporation to provide meaningfulness in people's lives. This article provides a powerful argument that if we do not invest in avoiding the 7 deadly sins of meaninglessness we are working against a very powerful aspect of our humanity that will inevtiablly weaken our corporations. Indeed  creating an environment in which people can find meaningfulness is both 
strategic and efficient, while also plays to who we are.
Very insightful research validating my own intuitive thinking. Very timely too for me personally as I currently engaged in a project aiming to enhance  employee engagement.
This work and research have similar findings to the work done by Prof T Amabile and S Kramer, The Progress Principle.

They found that it is the small wins every day which create the biggest intrinsic motivation.  "Creating forward movement in meaningful work" people need to have satisfying inner work live.
I highly recommend reading this book in conjunction with the research above
Katie Bailey
Thank you for your positive comments on our article. I do agree that there is much more that managers and leaders can do to help individuals find their work meaningful.  In our study, we found it really matters to people to know that their work makes a positive difference to others, whether that be people they know, clients or customers, colleagues, or even future generations. Leaders who create opportunities for people to meet with the beneficiaries of their work, and who seek out ways to show employees how important their work is to the wider world, will certainly help in this process.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day routines of the working day and to forget the significance of these wider issues for human well-being.
P Kumar
A very good opportunity to understand the real meaning of  'a meaningful work'. As an academician into corporate training, I get lot of satisfaction seeing positive change in the mindset and methods of managers. I really am able to feel that I'm actually doing a meaningful work. This article validates it further. I've even instances of 'flow' as explained by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and deep involvement and liking for the job. Even if I find my job meaningful; looking from a broader and practical perspective, two important aspects of the 'seven deadly sins' very correctly mentioned which dilute the meaningfulness are - treating people unfairly and, taking your employees for granted (lack of recognition and appreciation). Hope the essence of this article gets imbibed by relevant people mostly from the top management who can create tremendous change towards a conducive organizational climate leading to unprecedented engagement levels of people.
Jaba Gupta
Excellent article! 
It is perhaps the most engrossing one on the topic that I have read after Viktor E. Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning.
Speck Kevin Pratt
Just wanted to say thanks for writing this. I'm currently trying to right the ship of an international nonprofit organization that's largely volunteer run. Being able to point to these Seven Deadly Sins and cite this article should make a huge difference. I've seen 6 of the 7 committed over the last year multiple times.