Career advice

Why do you go to work? Five ways to make your job more meaningful

Research shows that you are most satisfied with your job when you find it meaningful, can manage your own tasks and get the chance to develop through professional challenges, writes career counsellor Morten Esmann from IDA.

Why do you go to work? When put on the spot, most people would probably say because they get paid for it. In any case, very few of us would probably go to work if we weren’t. But aren't there other reasons why we go to work?

IDA's career counsellor Morten Esmann thinks so.

"When we wake up in the morning, it's not the salary that makes us want to go to work. It has no bearing on the joy we have at work. If the salary is unreasonably low, it can lead to a lack of motivation. But there is nothing to indicate that a salary increase will permanently increase job satisfaction," he says.

It may well be that a salary increase gives short-term recognition, but it evaporates quite quickly - and then a new salary increase is quickly needed to achieve the same job satisfaction.

What's the point?

The psychologist Barry Schwartz has tried to find out what gives job satisfaction. For example, he has studied the job satisfaction of people who work in a hospital.

"Of the employees who cleaned, it was those who worked where the patients were who found the most job satisfaction. They didn't just clean a hospital, they could see the meaning of the cleaning, because it had a direct connection to the patients' well-being ," says Morten Esmann.

It's about being able to see one's own little cogwheel playing together with the company's big cogwheel. So you don't have to save lives for the work to make sense.

Find the meaning yourself or get help from your manager

If you find it difficult to find meaning in your work, do not despair, because it is not your responsibility alone. Your employer must also contribute.

"We risk stressing ourselves unreasonably in an eternal and never-resolved search for meaning, if it is solely our own responsibility. Therefore, it is also the employer's responsibility to create job satisfaction. The employer can do this, for example, by making it clear how the job, you perform is significant," says Morten Esmann.

Lacks real challenge

The career counsellors in IDA talk to many members who are in doubt about the meaning of what they do. They are unsure if they are in the right place. They leave for work in the morning feeling uncommitted - and come home just as uncommitted in the afternoon.

"In addition, many do not really experience that they are professionally challenged. If you are not challenged, then you come home without feeling that you have contributed anything. Therefore, they lack both meaning and challenges. Once in a while we have to come home with your arms over your head – and say: now we achieved something," says Morten Esmann, who also believes that we need to get out of our comfort zone.

When we approach a task knowing that it will be a challenge, but that we can do it, we probably experience job satisfaction. We don't have to experience this all the time, because then we get stressed. But we often hear that people change jobs because they miss professional challenges," the career counsellor points out.

Trinity difficult to realize

The third thing Barry Schwartz talks about is independence on the job. If we experience a sufficient degree of influence, we feel the joy of work and the meaning of the job. Responsibility gives job satisfaction.

Still, Morten Esmann believes that we must be careful not to get too caught up in constantly chasing the holy trinity – independence in the job, professional challenges that move us, and being able to see the meaning of the job.

"Even if we know what gives job satisfaction, we must be careful not to chase it all the time on all three parameters. Because there is a risk that it will never succeed – or that we will never be completely satisfied on all parameters," says he.

Five ways to give the job meaning

Career counsellor at IDA Morten Esmann has five good tips that can help you create meaning in your working life.

  1. Write a diary- for five to six weeks, you must write a diary about what you have done each day. Did you like the assignments? Did they motivate you? Did they challenge you? Did you acquire new skills? Did you get over the edge? Was the framework satisfactory?
  2. What made you happy? - find out which tasks made you happy? Give e.g. each task a number of smileys.
  3. What gives a lot of smileys? - what characterizes the tasks you have given many smileys to? How were the circumstances? How did you develop? What skills did you use?
  4. What do few smileys give? - what is the common denominator for the tasks with few smileys? Are they routine tasks? Did you miss the point? Are you using the wrong skills?
  5. Can you find the meaning somewhere? – when you know what characterizes good tasks, you also know where to look for job satisfaction. How can you get more of those tasks in your job? Can a changed approach to tedious tasks help? Is it the framework that needs to be changed? And maybe you also have to say never mind - and accept that there are periods when it's just a little harder to find the joy of work.

Discuss your career aspirations with a career counsellor

Use IDA when you want help designing your own career plan and choosing a career direction.

As a member of IDA, you have the option of 1 career counselling session every six months. 

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