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The Science-Backed Way to Make Your Work More Meaningful Without Changing Jobs

It's so simple.

Studies have shown that viewing our work as meaningful is essential to our happiness at the office. And according to new research published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, there’s a simple way to boost the meaning in your work: just think about how what you do impacts others.

Blake Allen, PhD, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Purdue University, asked 600 adults from a midwestern university to complete a short survey two times over a 6 month period. The first portion of the survey was related to task significance (the scientific term for believing that your work is beneficial to people other than yourself) and had participants rate their agreement with four statements like “A lot of others can be positively affected by how well my job gets done.” The second half required participants to rate their agreement with six statements related to job satisfaction—for example, “The work I do on this job is very important to me” or “The work I do on this job is worthwhile.” In terms of who was surveyed, participants’ job titles ranged from director, professor and admin assistant, their genders were evenly split between men and women and their ages ranged from 22 to 82.

Participants who rated their work as being essential to the welfare of others were more likely to consider their work meaningful than those who didn’t view their jobs as helpful to people other than themselves. These findings, as noted by Research Digest writer Christian Jarrett, held true across both genders and over all age groups and social classes, though as Jarrett points out in his piece on the findings, the study participants were mostly white and of high socioeconomic status.

These findings align with another study conducted by Allen that also focused on meaning at work. In that experiment, Allen attempted to influence participants’ view of the task significance of their jobs by instructing them to do a task that would either be beneficial to their peers or to themselves. Allen found that participants were more likely to view their work as meaningful when it benefited others. While these aren’t the first studies to suggest that doing work that helps others improves a person’s work satisfaction, Jarrett writes that Allan has “provided some of the first longitudinal evidence that seeing our work as benefiting others really does lead to an increase in our finding it meaningful.”

It’s not always easy to see how your job benefits others, so Allen suggests that employers try to improve task significance in their offices by “creating a prosocial climate in the workplace.” Whether it’s connecting an employee with someone who has directly benefitted from their work or giving someone the chance to work in a more philanthropic capacity, Allen notes that encouraging employees to view their work as meaningful is both “important and valuable.”

Read the study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior and read Jarrett’s piece about the findings here.

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