The Search for Meaning at Work: Part 2

The Search for Meaning at Work: Part 2 

Personal Fulfillment

So why are we thinking differently about work now? Why are we looking for meaning on the job as opposed to after hours like we always have? There are several reasons. One, the average American is working longer hours, allowing for less time at the end of the day to search for personal fulfillment. How many times have you heard someone say, “If I’m going to be putting all of this time into work, I might as well be doing something I enjoy”? 

Two, widespread layoffs have forced many people out of jobs during their prime working years. “At first, they feel fear, anger, shame, and self-pity,” says Tom Welch, president of Career Dimensions in Stuart, Florida. “But once they get past all the emotions, they want to take advantage of the opportunity to find work that is more meaningful.” Challenger sees the same reaction in his clients. “Most of the time,” he says, “people are relieved that they have been let go because their jobs were not working out for them anyway.” 

Demographics also play a part in this widespread search for meaning. Baby boomers, the largest group of U.S. workers, have reached a point in their lives at which they are naturally more contemplative. That’s what is feeding the spiritual awakening in the United States and the accompanying boom in religious publishing, new age spirituality, personal growth seminars, and angel movies. As boomers search for something greater than themselves to believe in, they can’t help but extend that search to their work lives. 

But though boomers may be leading this movement, they have plenty of followers at both ends of the age spectrum. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, recruiters on college campuses are now facing questions from first-time job hunters about such things as work-life balance. Before, such questions came during salary negotiations, if they came at all, not during first-round interviews. Apparently, today’s college students view work as an important part of their lives, but not as their entire lives, and they want to make sure the companies they work for share that value. 

It isn’t surprising when you consider that many current graduates were latchkey kids who grew up in households continually stressed by work-life conflict. One 22-year-old information-systems graduate asked a recruiter from Ceridian about the company’s “organizational values” on work and family. Apparently, he seldom saw his father while growing up and he was determined to avoid the same situation with his children. 

At the other end of the age spectrum are senior executives who are dizzy from years of corporate turmoil. According to John Decker, senior vice president of The Executive Career Resource Group in Wellesley, Massachusetts, senior managers are increasingly willing to leave their jobs because of a mismatch between their values and their company’s culture. “Some of my clients have been downsized,” says Decker, “but most of them want out because of the lack of corporate stability, declining loyalty, and the fact that they are losing a voice in the decision-making process.” 

Part of the reason that people are searching for more from their jobs is because, quite frankly, they know that more is possible. With basic needs for salary and safety met, employees in the early 1980s started asking for higher-level benefits, such as work-family programs, flextime, telecommuting options, domestic-partner coverage, and tuition reimbursement.

Now that many of those needs have been met, employees are pushing the envelope by demanding that their work also be fulfilling. As psychologist Abraham Maslow explains in his Hierarchy of Needs theory, lower-level needs must be taken care of before a person can focus his or her attention on what Maslow calls “self actualization.” Think about it: Do you think that employees during the Great Depression cared whether their jobs were meaningful? 

part 3