How to make your work feel more meaningful
Rokhaya Gueye had not considered changing careers until she was fired from her position as a manager at a telecom company in 2019.
After 17 years in the same organization, she was tempted to return to the corporate world in a similar position. Shortly after her release, she was poached for an executive position in marketing and communications. But six months into her new job, in the midst of the pandemic, Ms Gueye quit to pursue her passion for construction.
“You literally build things where at the end of the day you see what you’ve done,” she says. “It’s tangible. It’s there in real time. While you have meetings at the office. It’s very different.”
Ms. Gueye had studied civil engineering in the late 1990s, but after graduating her career took her to a position in a company.
In the meantime, she found ways to spark her interest in the craft. She volunteered with Habitat For Humanity and was part of a team building playgrounds for the non-profit organization Million Dollar Smiles.
“As soon as you have [construction] Skills, no one can take them away,” says Ms. Gueye. “You can build or renovate houses.”
Finding meaningful work doesn’t always require a full career pivot like Ms. Gueye’s. But realizing that she wanted her work to be practical, with tangible results and transferable skills, is a practice any employee can go through to make their next job more meaningful.
According to Robert Hosking, senior regional director at Robert Half Canada, a staffing services firm, employees have been thinking more about how their work can be meaningful since the pandemic.
A recent LinkedIn survey of 470 Canadian professionals conducted by Robert Half asked respondents what part of their job they enjoy most. The top answer was “interesting, meaningful work” with 37 percent of respondents, followed by 34 percent who selected “flexible work options.”
“Something we hear from people who have decided to quit their current job and look for something else is [to find] more meaningful and interesting work,” says Mr. Hosking.
But what counts as meaningful or interesting work can vary.
“Someone may decide, ‘I want to be in a role where I can give back or help others. And for others, they might get really bored and think, ‘I keep doing the same thing. I need something that really turns me on,’” says Mr. Hosking.
As a first step, Alysha Chin, a Toronto-based career coach, encourages her clients to evaluate their current position.
“Pay attention to how you’re feeling as you complete certain tasks,” she says. “If there is something you absolutely fear, then what do you fear? What are you afraid of doing a little less or do you feel calm about it?”
A small pivot or change of employer in the same job role may be required for someone to find their job more fulfilling.
Ms. Chin gives the example of a lawyer who went from a company to a non-profit organization.
For others, a deeper dive into personal skills and interests may be required to find a more meaningful path.
For example, doing something you are good at can bring more fulfillment to your work. If you’re having trouble determining this yourself, Ms. Chin suggests asking a colleague, mentor, or close friend for help.
“Skills or strengths that come naturally don’t necessarily feel like abilities to us, but it’s impressive to other people,” she says.
Someone who prefers head-down tasks might enjoy a career like data analysis. When you’re satisfied with the work and have a tangible outcome or point of completion, look for project-based roles. A career coach or recruiter can help you connect the dots, or try an online resource like the Canadian Government Job Bank Career Quiz.
For some, an employer that is more aligned with their values will help them find more purpose in their work. Mr. Hosking says organizations are becoming more proactive when it comes to showcasing company values in job postings and websites.
“The nature of the culture, the giveback programs, the community engagement, the commitment to diversity and inclusion, the focus on people first, those are the things you’re looking for as a potential employee,” says Mr. Hosking. “We hear from individuals: ‘I want to know that the company I work for is committed to the environment. What are they doing to reduce their carbon footprint or give back in that way?’”
Mr. Hosking notes that most jobs don’t always feel meaningful. “I don’t know if there’s a job out there that feels 100 percent like you’re making a difference all the time,” he says. “Probably 25 percent of all jobs that you don’t like best but need to get done.”
Mr. Hosking also recommends sensible job seekers use contract roles to test new roles or organizations. “It’s an evaluation opportunity for the individual to say, ‘I really liked that. I liked the company,” he says.
Alternatively, a short-term placement can also be an advantage if the position or employer does not suit you.
In some cases, employees may not need to change jobs or employers to find more meaning in their roles. A conversation with your current manager could lead to small changes that will make you feel more fulfilled in your current job.
“Maybe there are some committees or other things in the business that they can help you be a part of,” Mr. Hosking says. “That might include some of the things that help you feel more fulfilled.”