meaning and work

“When does a job feel meaningful? Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn a part of our makeup as our appetite for status or money.”


So says Allain de Botton, the wonderful writer whose books I’ve eagerly devoured. With the benefit of hindsight it feels reasonable to say that it was just a matter of time before he turned his attention to the ‘pleasures and sorrows of work

With the inevitable evolution in our economies as we emerge from the current twin crises, climate change and economic, it is a better chance than we’ve had for a long time to ask questions about work and workplaces. We have taken it for granted that work can be drudgery as we participate in the machinery of industry.

Ergo’s development of the concept of generative workplaces has incorporated a variety of dimensions that have been well studied and understood, including workplace wellbeing and organisational health. But de Botton’s straight forward question above is the nub of it for me. A generative organisation is one that facilitates meaningful work.

On one level this is about stakeholder engagement. Especially staff. To what extent do employees experience meaning and joy as people in the course of their work? At another level it is about the meaningful contribution of the organisation to society. The two are clearly related, but the capacity of leaders to keep people connected with the greater social purposes of enterprise appear to be sorely lacking. It goes without saying of course that the tragedy is that many, many enterprise leaders have themselves lost touch with a vision and purpose beyond wealth generation.

I hope that the current climate might prompt more people to ask the meaning question in the prime of their careers, rather than having to walk the well worn path that throws up the questions as wallpaper for a midlife crises.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How would you answer this question?

“What conditions allow you to experience meaningfulness in your work?”

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