What gives you a sense of meaning in your work?

According to David Graeber, many people have pointless jobs which exist merely to serve unnecessary bureaucratic processes.

Have you ever reflected on your own work, and what it is about it specifically that creates (or inhibits) meaning for you?

How can we create more meaning for other people in their work?

  • I have two answers!
    For my day job - I'm intrigued by the psychology behind what I do and (more importantly!) why other people do what they do. I work for organisations where I believe that I can make a difference and help people 'be better', either at an individual level or at an organisational one. To do this effectively I find sharing values with the business helps.

    For my other job - I want to make peoples' experiences better. Fuelled by my own rubbish experience and subsequently by my amazing experiences - I want other people to share that and, again, I believe I can help people do that.

    IME the people who are able to ascribe meaning to their work are extremely privileged. Firstly to be able to look for work that they find meaningful, and secondly to be able to turn down work that they don't. Not all people are in that position.
  • There is a sixth BS job .....writing pointless articles based on almost no data or science and recounting anecdotes as fact. Are we in the silly season already?

    I am sure there are people with pointless jobs but very few and far between. And far less than there used to be.
  • As for the original statement - many of the jobs we have societally created are meaningless when we look at humanity on a much wider scale. We've created entire industries based on false need and yes, created many jobs and much wealth sometimes, but it rarely means very much for our species.
  • In reply to Meg:

    Although it’s over 50 years old now, as far as I know the work of Berger Berger and Kellner expounded in the book ‘The Homeless Mind’ is still a relevant and valid serious study of the entire problem.
  • In reply to Meg:

    Hi Meg,
    I also have a Psychology background so I love researching people's behaviour in the workplace. I agree that it's a privilege to be able to find a job that's meaningful and fulfilling on a personal level, rather than just a way of making money.
    I wonder if work can still be meaningful if you don't share the values of the organisation?
  • In reply to Louisa Baczor:

    I think it wouldn't be impossible, but a lot more difficult certainly!
  • In reply to Meg:

    I can attest to that. I would not advise anyone to do that unless the "pay off", whether financial or psychological, significantly exceeds the emotional energy expended.
  • In reply to Louisa Baczor:

    Do the "values" of the organisation matter as much to the vast majority of employees as we in HR seem to think they do? I have no firm answer either way but if you are building cars, processing Community charge payments, selling phone tariffs or collecting refuse how important in the scale of things are the values?
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    4 Jul, 2018 12:51

    In reply to Keith:

    If the answer is 'no'... they are probably robots already.
  • Hosw can we create more meaning for other people in their work?

    2000 years of studying human behaviour and we still don't know?

    Example pointless job:- I enter our local Homebase and am 'greeted' by some employee who greets me with; "Welcome to Homebase sir, if there's anything you need please do not hesitate to ask one of our colleagues".

    And on leaving he bids me farewell with; "Did you find everything you needed today sir? - - "thank you!" ---" have a nice day".

    ?????  2000 years or more employing people and it seems we've not learned much.


  • In reply to Steve Bridger:

    Not sure I entirely agree on this one. The point is that work is not the be all and end all tovsone people that sone in HR or writing management books seem to think. For some /many it’s about a place to simply earn cash to live outside work. And whilst it’s nice that work in a friendly team and to not be stressed by the work it is sadly for many something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

    We spend ages on things like company values but the question remains in reality dovthey matter anywhere near as much as we think they do for the vast majority of people? I remain to be convinced to be honest and no I don’t think that makes people robots but simply reflects the position in their hierarchy of needs that work holds and that the organisations aims, goals and vision has far less relevance to them than paying the bills.
  • In reply to David Perry:

    I am sure this topic relates to far wider and more fundamental effects of technological change (or 'modernisation' as Berger Berger and Kellner called it, as cited in my previous post above.)

    Such as this outlines the process of modern technological change, which, unless Mankind is very careful, will be highly unlikely to represent change for the better for all but a relatively few consequentially-enriched oligarchs:

  • In reply to David Perry:

    David actually Walmart who pioneered that approach have shown that for most ( although clearly not you ) it’s far from a pointless job. It engages with the customer, makes most feel welcomed and a real person rather than just a number and if done well can greatly increase identification with that store / brand and repeat visits.

    They have trialled using them and not using them and commercially it makes sense to have them. So perhaps because we can’t see the point doesn’t mean it’s pointless.

    As I said earlier I would be surprised if in any commercial organisation there are many pointless jobs anymore. The budgets are just too stretched and tones too tight.

    I accept there are many jobs that may not give high levels of personal satisfaction or reward for the job holder. But that’s another matter I think.
  • In reply to Keith:

    I think Keith has hit on a key point here.
    In these days of leaner and leaner management the luxury of jobs with no purpose for a company is IMHO less and less present.
    One of the challenges of today's world for a lot of people is to be able to see what their job actually contributes - good line managers help people to understand the purpose behind the things they do, but not all managers are good people managers.....
    Even then, there are many jobs whose purpose is evident, but which are unlikely to engage most workers in an enduring way - try spending an evening schlepping dustbins around in freezing temperatures and you'll quickly get my drift.
    As HR people we have a duty to assist our employers and managers to achieve engagement but even in 2018 miracles can't happen everywhere and every day :-)