What is the most important thing you want out of your job? Do you want to make more money? Are there opportunities to climb the corporate ladder? What about job security? Does flexibility exist?

Chances are, if you’re like most people who’ve been asked this question, meaning is often the number one answer. In other words, we want to know that what we do has a purpose beyond money, promotions, job security, or even flexibility.

This isn’t exactly surprising. Several studies suggest those who experience meaning in their work experience increased motivation, engagement, empowerment, career development, job satisfaction, and individual performance. When put together, meaningful work is one of the most powerful and effective ways to boost productivity.

What’s more, it’s also been found that more than 9 out of 10 employees are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings in exchange for greater meaning at work.

But, what exactly makes a job meaningful? And, more importantly, how can you find meaning in your work?

Meaningful work: The key to unlocking motivation.

“In exploring what makes work meaningful, we rely on self-determination theory,” write Milena Nikolova and Femke Cnossen for the Brooking Institution. “According to this theory, satisfying three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness—is key for motivating workers and enabling them to experience purpose through their work.”

The first psychological need is competency. That means that “individuals have a need for feeling competent in terms of having the skills and capabilities to overcome challenging tasks.”

The second? People want to feel autonomous and have the freedom to decide what they want to do.

“Finally, workers feel related if they experience genuine care from their bosses or colleagues, and that they care about their superiors and coworkers in return,” add Nikolova and Cnossen. As far as work is concerned, there are other important factors, such as wage and benefit levels, opportunities for career advancement, job security, and the number of hours worked.

“Our analysis shows that that relatedness, which is about relationships at work, is the most important determinant of work meaningfulness,” they add. Those who telework and cannot socialize with colleagues, either before or after the pandemic, won’t be shocked by this finding.

“In general, we discover that autonomy, relatedness, and competence are almost five times more important for perceptions of having meaningful work compared with compensation, benefits, career advancement, job insecurity, and working hour,” the authors write.

At the same time, meaningful work is “intimately personal and individual.” There is no one formula for meaningful work. But, it may also achieve the following;

  • Allows you to use your skills and talents.
  • Makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger.
  • Knowing that your contributions actually mean something.
  • Feeling like you have a work-life balance and ownership.

Steps to finding meaningful work.

So, obviously, finding meaningful work should be a priority. But, how can you make this possible?

All you need is love.

The most obvious answer? Doing what you love. And, that ultimately comes down to what you’re passionate about.

Of course, passions vary from person to person. So, there is no right or wrong here. For example, you may enjoy doing software work or love engineering. On the other hand, you might get a thrill in helping animals or those in need, cooking, or sharing your expertise.

Identify what you enjoy doing and what you’re truly passionate about. From there, see if you can make a living doing it. In some cases, your passion could be enough to live off of. But, in reality, it might be a side hustle for at least a specific amount of time.

But, what if that’s not an option?

Well, maybe you have a job that offers plentiful vacation time so that you can pursue your passions. Or, even though it’s not the job of your dreams, you genuinely believe in the organization and the goals it’s trying to achieve.

Use the alignment triangle.

“Finding meaningful work involves seeking alignment between three areas: passion, values, and gifts (or what some may call talent or skills),” adds Caroline Castrillon in a Forbes article.

“Do you have a hobby, or something you enjoyed doing as a child, but never considered it a career possibility? Do you find yourself doing something that you love where the time seems to fly by?” Answering these “questions can help reveal your hidden passions,” says Castrillon.

But you already knew that. The next step is to take into account your values. This could be your family, creativity, helping solve a problem or becoming financially stable.

Make a list and prioritize them,” she advises. As Aristotle once said, “where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”

Finally, consider whatever it is that you excel at. “Those are activities that, when aligned with passion and values, can lead to work that truly lights you up inside.”

Job crafting.

If you’re unhappy with your current job, you can either adjust it or look for a new one. The first approach is known as “job crafting,” which was coined by psychologists Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane E. Dutton in 2001.

A job crafting strategy involves turning your current job into one that you sincerely enjoy. How is his possible? By amending your job description so that it’s meaningful. As a result, you’ll be happier and more engaged at work.

According to Wrzesniewski and Dutton, there are three parts involved with job crafting comes in three parts. However, any one of these components will enhance your enjoyment and sense of meaning at work.

  • The first part is task crafting. This consists of one or more tasks being dropped or picked up to change your daily role. This isn’t possible for everyone. But many roles will allow you to do this once you have shown your abilities and earned trust.
  • Relational crafting is the second part. Here you would create or strengthen workplace relationships. For example, instead of eating lunch with your same crew, try and have lunch with different colleagues every Friday.
  • The third and final part is cognitive crafting. Here you’re essentially changing your entire perception of your job. Even a little change in perspective can make your current role seem more meaningful. As an example, changing your title so that it conveys the most meaningful parts of your position.

As a result of job crafting, people tend to feel more autonomous at work. And, this is associated with higher levels of job satisfaction.

Seek autonomy.

In modern history, have we had as much freedom at work as we do today? More and more companies are moving away from traditional hierarchies towards a more autonomous structure. There are several reasons why, such as technology that allows for more remote work. Also, organizations have realized that this increases innovation and productivity.

Of course, if you’re a business owner, then you have a fair amount of autonomy. However, if you’re working for someone else, there are ways for you to take ownership of your work, such as;

  • Ask for more flexibility from your employer. For instance, you could ask if you could work from home one or two days per week. Suggest a trial period to build trust and deliver results. When working from home, you can set your own schedule and choose how to work as an added perk. Eventually, you may be able to work even more days remotely.
  • Volunteer for new responsibilities. You don’t want to overextend yourself. But, if you have the availability, ask to take on responsibilities that let you showcase your unique talents.
  • Seek autonomy outside of your “job”: If there aren’t opportunities to show off your skills, find them elsewhere. Maybe during your downtime, you could freelance or engage with a hobby. And, why knows? Down the road, this might become a full-time gig.

On your end, you still need to hold yourself accountable. Doing so will build trust with your employer, which in turn, will generate more opportunities for autonomy.

Ask someone.

This might be awkward asking other existential questions like, ” What am I good at?” or “What’s the purpose of my work?” But, there are some clever workarounds, such as;

  • Asking others, like a co-worker or supervisor, for constructive feedback
  • Bouncing ideas off those whom you work closely with.
  • Sharing your ideas or opinions during meetings or online surveys.
  • Reading online reviews about your product or service.
  • Sharing your expertise through blog posts or coaching others and listening to what your audience has to say.

I’ll be honest; listening to feedback from others can be tough. However, don’t take it personally. Rather, use it to learn and grow. And, most importantly, use it to find what’s most meaningful to your work.

Image credit: michael burrows; pexels; thank you!