Your work is meaningful!
At some point of our careers, we all question whether our work has any meaning. The younger generation, in particular, pays more and more attention to the content of their work and their own opportunities to influence it. The search for meaningfulness is also challenging employers.
The majority of Finns spend a large part of their adult life at work, so it is only fair to hope that work and the time spent at work feel meaningful.
It is easy to think that a doctor, police officer or teacher, for example, finds a deeper meaning in their work by helping others, at least once in a while, but what about the rest of us? Can work feel meaningful even if it does not involve saving the world, passion, high pay or a fancy title?
Yes, all kinds of work can feel meaningful.
“Yes, all kinds of work can feel meaningful, and all work is important,” confirms Pasi Pyöriä, University Lecturer at Tampere University.
Pyöriä was part of the Blue-Collar Workers research project, which studied the opinions of blue-collar workers on the meaningfulness of their work. The project revealed that more than half of employees in the property services and cleaning sectors are proud of their work.
“In general, people want to be good at something and even overcome obstacles, because it makes them feel successful. If the work is heavy, the sense of occupational pride can stem simply from being able to perform the tasks,” Pyöriä notes.
Helping others and influencing one’s own work
According to Pyöriä, most people find their work meaningful when they can help others. They can help, for example, their colleague, work community or society at large.
“A sense of community is also important. It means working in a nice group of people who are treated equally and receiving positive feedback,” Pyöriä says.
One of the most effective ways to make work feel more meaningful for employees is to give them more autonomy.
The employer can support this by offering spaces where the employees can gather, for example, during lunch or coffee breaks.
In Pyöriä’s view, one of the most effective ways to make work feel more meaningful for employees is to give them more autonomy, in other words, allow them to determine their own tasks, working methods and pace of work, at least to some extent.
Hartwall has tackled this challenge by implementing a new tailored roles model that enables employees to modify their tasks based on their own wishes and preferences.
“We encourage our employees to share their personal interests, as this can improve their opportunities to find new projects or even a new role over the longer term,” says Katja Hagström, HR Director at Hartwall.
Enough time for each task
The tailored roles model has proven to be effective in practice. Hagström points out that the tailoring does not mean jumping between different tasks, but long-term planning and development of work.
For example, an employee in Hartwall’s financial department told their supervisors and the HR department that, as a wine enthusiast, they would like to work with wines. At first, the employee worked with wines part-time, but when the opportunity presented itself, transferred to the wine team permanently.
It is important to allocate enough working time to all tasks – including one’s dream job.
In the marketing team, a product manager’s job description was adjusted to include the working group for leadership development, because the employee was highly skilled in marketing and wanted to extend their expertise to management. These tasks are now part of their working hours, and they do not have to complete them alongside their primary role.
“We discuss workloads with the employees to ensure that the new tasks are not too burdensome and everyone can perform their tasks well, even when the job description is more varied,” Hagström confirms.
It is important to allocate enough working time to all tasks – including one’s dream job. An interesting new area of responsibility will not make work more meaningful if you have to do it in your free time. Burnout can undo all the elements that increase meaning at work.
Employees can find meaning in their work by actively focusing on the positive aspects of their jobs.
Employees can find meaning in their work by actively focusing on the positive aspects of their jobs. This is part of the reason why Hartwall has encouraged its employees to engage in self-management.
“When you identify the tasks that feel meaningful in your own work and use them as a source of energy, you are more likely to manage the not-so-pleasant tasks without burning out,” Hagström adds.
Tailored roles have always been part of the Hartwall organisation, but the new generation of employees with their expectations – sometimes even demands – turned them into an official policy. Clearly, young people are not willing to accept the old ways of working.
“Of course, we want our good employees to stay with us. That is why we ask if we could make employees more committed by modifying their tasks or working methods,” Hagström says.
Work is not a value in itself any more.
Essi Wäck, HRD Manager at Unfair Lean Marketing Oy, shares Hagström’s view on the new order of priority young employees have.
“Work is not a value in itself any more, but people are looking for tasks and workplaces that correspond to their personal values,” Wäck points out.
Unfair Lean Marketing is a marketing and brand company with slightly over 30 employees and the winner of the national Great Place to Work contest. It is a workplace where the values of the employer, the customer and the employees meet.
The values are so important to the company that they have sometimes decided not to make an offer to a potential customer due to conflicting values.
The values are so important to the company that they have sometimes decided not to make an offer to a potential customer due to conflicting values. The compatibility of the employer’s and the employee’s values is given priority in recruitment.
“We want to hire people who want to work with us because of our culture and values, not because of our good fringe benefits. This might not be a great place to work for everyone, but we try to be the best place to work for our employees,” Wäck notes.
Time for self-development
Positive feedback and open interaction increase meaningfulness in a work community. The employees of Unfair Lean Marketing receive positive feedback on their work weekly over a shared breakfast, and once a month on a Friday, the team gathers for a glass of bubbly to toast good performance.
“We also consider it important that our employees are in direct contact with the customers and receive feedback from them as well. This is one way of underlining the meaning in wok,” Wäck says.
Usually, the best ideas for working culture development come from the employees.
Respect and equality are the cornerstones of Unfair Lean Marketing’s operations, as evidenced by the lack of strict hierarchies. The employees also participate in developing the company.
“All employees, from digital experts to the CEO, are equally valuable, and every opinion counts. People get to have an influence and have their say on matters,” Wäck says.
Usually, the best ideas for working culture development come from the employees. The 4 + 1 model for working practised at Unfair Lean Marketing was also based on employee feedback. The employees work on customer projects from Monday to Thursday and dedicate Fridays to learning, development and recovery.
“If you have had a hectic week, you can spend the Friday at home and sleep until late. You can also attend meetings held at the office or participate in our development projects,” says Wäck.
Perhaps surprisingly, the working conditions survey by Statistics Finland revealed that about 60 per cent of Finns consider the content of work to be more important than pay. However, the importance of content and meaning should not be reflected in lower pay.
“Work has always been more than a source of pay, but fair pay is also an important aspect of meaningfulness. Poor pay undermines morale and makes work feel less meaningful,” Pasi Pyöriä points out.
We can all contribute to meaningful work.
Making work more meaningful is, to a large extent, between the employer and the employee, but we could all bear part of the responsibility.
“We can all contribute to meaningful work, whether we are interacting with employees, employers, supervisors, colleagues, customers or patients,” Pyöriä says and continues:
“Let’s ask ourselves, are we genuine in our encounters with others at work, do we ask them how they are doing and coping and are we interested in them?”