Do You Know What It Means to Do Meaningful Work?

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of engaging in meaningful work for employees. But what, exactly, does “meaningful work” mean?

As I was catching up on my (admittedly large) backlog of news and blogs in my reader, I found this nugget from the Switch & Shift blog (which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite daily reads):

Managers cannot make work meaningful for employees. Managers, however, can shape the workplace environment to let meaningful work become possible for employees. With a context set to let meaning be experienced, employees can leverage the environment to derive meaning from their work.

Meaningful work is vague. What exactly is it? Assuredly it begins quite selfishly. But this is out of necessity. For work to be meaningful, it is the employee who must label it so. This requires a belief that meaningful work is a desired outcome from managements’ actions. And employees believe managements’ intentions and see actions aimed to let meaning emerge.”

Knowing the meaning of your work

This reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story of the senior military leader touring NASA Space Center during the early days of the space race. The leader noticed a janitor cleaning an area of mission control and asked, “What are you doing?”

The janitor didn’t reply with the obvious, “I’m sweeping the floor.” No, he said, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

In this story, the employee knew and understood the greater purpose of his efforts. Keeping a neat and clean work environment would help to eliminate distractions for the scientists and engineers in mission control, thereby helping to contribute to the greater space mission. This employee knew the meaning of his work.

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Personally, I don’t lead a group of strategy consultants. I help companies change their cultures to ones of appreciation and recognition.

What do you do for work? What’s the real meaning of your work?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


4 Comments on “Do You Know What It Means to Do Meaningful Work?

  1. Hi Derek,

    It never ceases to get old to meet another evangelist for helping others find meaning in their work. Keep inspring those who are willing to do the work to make a difference through their works.

  2. Interesting story of the janitor at NASA’s mission control. I believe that communication is a central aspect in finding meaning and purpose for work. When a company or firm enables its employees to be engaged through constant communication, goals become greater aligned and teamwork develops to achieve them.

    The key challenge is how can a business enable this to take place? Employee recognition platforms are a pathway to this

  3. All too often we become so busy doing the day-in/day-out that we forget the big picture. Just because we know what our goals are as a company….don’t assume that is true about everyone else.

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