Building Meaning in Work

By Tim Lutenski

Despite our turbulent economy and uncertain job market, more than ever many people are seeking to find significant meaning in their work. They view work from a holistic and connected perspective and strive to bring forth their passions and interests in an attempt to reconfigure their work lives and uncover their deepest potential. Here, building a satisfying “work-meaning connection” is the process of aligning work with the core self; work is not really about having a job, instead it is about actualizing purpose and living a fulfilling life. Today, for many workers the lack of intangible rewards and inner meaning is a significant barrier to realizing happiness and satisfaction. They can become emotionally disconnected and psychologically disengaged from the work they perform, actually experiencing a crisis of meaninglessness and suffering genuine angst in trying to build work-meaning. This failure to find meaning tends to bring cynicism and disillusionment, where workers are listless and unmotivated, lose commitment and focus, and perform work that becomes routine and boring. These are some suggestions which may help build a work-meaning connection.


Establish A Foundation


Understand you are in transition. This is characterized by a change from demonstrating competence to finding personal meaning: a shift from “how” to “why.”


Assume responsibility. Achieving growth and meaning is dependent upon being committed to dealing with consequences and outcomes.


Come to terms with who you are. Know yourself, the best fit work environment, and areas of high competency.

Adopt a new work perspective. View work in terms of employability and work to be performed, not employment or a job.


Overcome self-imposed barriers. Make both internal shifts (deciding what you want, raising your standards, and changing your limiting beliefs) and external shifts (taking consistent action, seeing what’s working or not, and changing your approach and/or strategy until it works).


Ask probing questions and provide honest answers. This induces you to renew yourself and motivates you to see the person you can become.


Recognize Organizational Needs


Aligning personal with organizational needs necessitates assimilating a whole new approach to work: you must objectively see your current role within the organization and then reposition yourself in a strategic way to align meaning with organizational objectives. Your main task is to develop a plan and clarify how it benefits the organization. This is simply taking the initiative in making the best connection between your needs and those of the employer. Recognize your role in the larger organization, the greater good resulting from your work, and connect meaning to specific tasks you wish to perform.


Develop an Action Plan

1. Create goals:

  • Write down everything you want to do to achieve greater work-meaning.

  • Wait a day or so and then answer why? for each goal.

  • Eliminate goals you cannot fully commit to and/or don’t take you closer to a specific objective.

  • Divide goals into three categories: short, intermediate, and long range.

2. Develop an action plan - identify:

  • Benefits to be realized from reaching goals.

  • Major obstacles faced or sacrifices to be made.

  • Skills and knowledge needed.

  • Helpers (people, groups, organizations).

  • Timetables and completion dates.

  • How you are rewarding yourself.

Employ Specific Strategies: with Your Supervisor, Your Organization, Yourself


With your supervisor:



  • Build choice and negotiate for authority. Ask to acquire the necessary resources and become empowered to make decisions.


  • Challenge yourself. Take on new projects, identify inefficiencies, service unmet needs, and tap into outside interests/hobbies/passions that you can tie into the workplace.


  • Build a relationship. Get to know your boss and what makes them tick. Problems or challenges they face may provide you with an opportunity.


  • Develop win-win scenarios. Re-frame assignments (that have meaning for you) in terms of how they also benefit the organizations and invite buy-in and commitment from the boss.


With your organization:


  • Understand dynamics of change. Change relocates needs and repositions opportunities, determine how you can best meet and service these.


  • Take initiative and be persistent. Ask for what you want or feel you need. Learn to cope with rejection, because winners are rejected all the time. Ask, and if someone says no, go ask someone else.


  • Focus on building relationships. Pay special attention to those in your work environment, but develop external contacts that lie outside your immediate frame of reference.


  • Recognize what is rewarded. Study those who have both created meaning for themselves and been rewarded for their organizational contributions.


  • Focus on solutions. Use the 80/20 formula: devote 80% of your time on solutions and 20% on problems.


With yourself:



  • Record achievements. Develop a portfolio that includes significant accomplishments. This will indicate patterns of your efforts and help determine areas of future focus.


  • Single task. Slice big projects into manageable parts and complete one at a time.


  • Use zero based thinking. Ask yourself regularly what you are now doing that you shouldn’t be doing anymore.


  • Seek mentors and avoid isolation. Ask them and others you respect where you excel and can apply your best strengths. Successful people value support, ask for it, and use it extensively.


  • Focus on core competencies. Concentrate on developing your strengths and getting even better in areas where you already excel.


  • Exercise good judgment and discretion. Make job tasks more relevant, negotiate or simplify tasks with little value, spend creative time on the most meaningful tasks, and commit work efforts to better fit your passions and vision.


The very best work-meaning connection really comes from your innermost depths and hopefully allows you to align work with who you are and be the kind of person you want to be. You can make your work creative and rewarding, if you give yourself permission to do so. Look for work where you can make a difference and add value, because you do have something special to give, can derive satisfaction, and deserve to be rewarded. When your work is rewarding, it spills over to everything and everyone else in your life.



Tim Lutenski

Tim Lutenski is an Instructional Specialist at St. Clair County Community College, Port Huron, MI., and is Director of TMLconsulting, which offers a variety of career and employment services. He teaches career based courses, workshops, and seminars, provides career services for individuals, groups, and organizations, and is a volunteer who assists those with special vocational needs, including the homeless, ex-offenders, and those ages 50 and up. Tim conducts professional seminars at conferences and for associations and organizations, and writes articles for various professional and academic publications. He has recently produced his first book and CD, Seek and you will find: Your complete job search guide.  He has an M.A., in Organizational Leadership and an M.A., in Counseling Psychology, with professional certifications in tutoring, employee supervision, training, leadership, career coaching, mutual gains negotiations, and community mediation. He can be reached at tmlconsulting@yahoo.com or www.tmlconsulting.info

Printer-Friendly Version