Can you find meaning in your work (even at a job you don’t love)?

While some people are working at their dream job, many are just “making a living” and hopefully getting benefits. Many of us have found ourselves questioning if what we’re doing at work makes an impact, especially if we’re in an environment where we are ignored, mistreated, or feel like we don’t matter.

You don’t have to save the whales or cure cancer to find connection and meaning on the job. A global survey by Gartner found that 65% of employees said the pandemic had made them rethink the place that work should have in their life. Fifty-six percent said it made them want to contribute more to society. With the amount of time we spend at work, finding value is an important part of your mental and even physical health.

We asked followers of FacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn channels in what ways work made them feel devalued. We’ll share a few of their stories, and if you’re in the same boat or can relate, we’ve got a few ideas that may help you feel like you have purpose at work.

Toxic workplace

“Two colleagues were just nasty. My intelligence was insulted regularly, I was berated constantly, yelled at in front of customers, and walked all over.”

If your managers and members of leadership don’t model good workplace behavior and tolerate a culture of bullying, favoritism, or looking the other way when people are mistreated, that is a red flag. You shouldn’t tolerate any workplace that involves yelling, disrespect, verbal and/or sexual harassment.

Fix it: If you see or experience toxic behavior on the job, tell your manager or company leaders. If they don’t act, it may be time to look for another job. Sometimes you like your company, but there are one or a few bad apples blocking focus and satisfaction. In those cases, ask if you can transfer to another department where you and your work would be more appreciated.

No respect for personal time

“I was answering messages that were in ALL CAPS while sitting alone with my husband in the ICU.”

Fix it: If you find that your work demands often spill over into your personal time, it’s time to chat with your manager. Set boundaries and make it clear that you cannot be available 24 hours a day. Remind your boss that work-life balance makes for a better, more engaged worker than someone who is burned out and resentful.

No career path

“I had just been denied a promotion. I walked into the break room and saw a large group of employees sitting quietly; each one with a grimace, overworked eyes, and aging quickly. At that moment I paused and thought, ‘ I cannot let this be my future…’”

Fix it: If your promotion was denied, try to find out why, and whether or not you can evolve your role to make it more meaningful. If your career has stalled, consider moving to another department with more responsibility, or look for a job elsewhere with more upward mobility. For many people, just having a career development path in place is enough to provide meaning at work.

High-stress environment and lack of support

“I managed a grocery store and had been working 60 hours per week, on call 24/7 … I went out on FMLA the next day, which led to my eventual resignation.”

Fix it: Workers cannot be productive and happy in their jobs if they are constantly under stress. If this is your situation, talk to management about the importance of getting some help. Sometimes we do too much because we want to be seen as important to the company. But you can care about your job and still seek balance.

Not listening or responding to feedback

“I made an appointment with my supervisor to discuss some ideas that were outside the box, and when they were shot down once again, I expressed desperation. ‘What can I possibly do to improve the situation? How can we go on in this fashion?’ My supervisor answered, ‘I think the only thing you can do is…to care less.’”

Fix it: Every idea isn’t a winner, but if you want to help drive change and every idea you have to improve things is rejected,  talk to your manager to find out why. Ask for specifics; maybe there are budget issues or cultural issues that make change slow to happen. Open lines of communication are important to your self-worth, and shaping your suggestions with an understanding of your manager’s position will help you make progress.

Not being inclusive

“I am a quadriplegic and use a motorized wheelchair. My office went to Gettysburg for a leadership retreat. A key part of the experience is a tour of the battlefield and a guide explaining the different parts of the battle and its relationship to leadership principles. The bus arrived for the tour and there was no wheelchair lift. I could not get on the bus. I was embarrassed, upset, angry, and felt silenced. Why didn’t anyone think about my needs when planning the retreat?”

Fix it: “Diversity and inclusion” shouldn’t just be a page on a company’s website. It should be a stated commitment to doing better in all aspects of diversity — that includes not being ageist or ablest. Talk to HR or a member of leadership if you see or feel discriminated against. To find purpose in your work, you need to feel like you belong and are being seen and heard.

Meaningful jobs

During the Great Resignation of 2021, 53% of employees who quit their jobs also changed their occupations. A whopping 86% of employees strongly prefer to work for companies that care about the same issues they do. If you feel like your job is “just a job” and not a career, if it feels like a dead end or is stressing you out and making it impossible to find work/life balance, you may want to start thinking about how to find more meaningful work. A job with personal meaning gives you a valuable sense of purpose and helps your overall satisfaction with life.

Whether it’s moving to a team with more camaraderie among co-workers, finding a company with a clearer commitment to diversity and inclusion, or simply making sure your company cares about employee development and well-being, finding meaning in your work is an important part of your success story.

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