What Makes Work Meaningful
I learned a new word: Eudiamonia. It means “flourishing and living a life that realises one’s potential.”
I can’t pronounce it, but eudiamonia is all I want.
Work is surely only one component of a flourishing life, but it’s a big one.
Nikolova and Cnossen just published a study that identifies the three big factors that contribute to whether you feel your work is meaningful and satisfactory. The three big factors are:
Which means that you believe you have control over what you do with your time.
Which means you believe you can figure it out, even if it’s challenging, and that your effort contributes to a greater good.
Which means you believe you’re well-connected to your colleagues and bosses.
If you’re high on these three areas, the researchers say, you’ll be willing to withstand some underperformance in other aspects of job satisfaction. For example, the authors report that nurses usually have a high job satisfaction, even if there are parts of the job that totally suck.
I can hardly understand this, but those three factors were “4.6 times more important” than working hours, pay, benefits, and career advancement.
Pay and benefits were not as important.
Perhaps if you are forced to choose between purpose and pay, you’d choose purpose. But it’s a false dichotomy.
When you work for yourself, you get to set your own pay and choose your own projects. You get pay AND purpose.
And that’s why these particular results excluded people who were self-employed. The researchers said this was because self-employed people can’t score on relatedness, since they have no peers or bosses. Huh? I have a wonderful group of colleagues. (And the best boss, just sayin.)
If they included the self-employed, it would certainly skew the results, but not because of relatedness. Because we’d be the examples of eudiamonia – where you can do incredibly meaningful work AND have flexible hours and a strong income.
It seems to me that the only way to really achieve eudiamonia is to work for yourself.
When the researchers pulled a subset of the data, where they could include the self-employed, they found “the self-employed enjoy greater mental health and subjective well-being compared to similar regular employees… This well-being premium is often attributed to the utility of being your own boss and having autonomy and flexibility.”
And, I’ll add, BEING PAID WELL.
Did your mental health change when you started working for yourself?
Mine sure did.
And, to note, the researchers pulled this data from the European Working Conditions Survey – so this sample is a particular cut of society. One where it’s common to go on holiday for the entire month of August and take 2 hour lunches with friends.
How do you think these results would differ for people in the American work culture? Or the Indian work culture? Probably a lot, though I don’t know how. So take this with that particular grain of salt.
The researchers added that “career advancement possibilities and working hours are more strongly associated with meaningfulness for the non-self-employed group.”
Which, I’m speculating, is because we the self-employed advance our own careers and set our own working hours. We don’t rely on the benevolent boss to deem us worthy. We are worthy. All of us.
If you haven’t yet taken that spring off the cliff to work for yourself, let this study be one more reason – it’s the best way to achieve eudiamonia.
If you already work for yourself, let this study light you up on the darkest days of entrepreneurism, when you’re dealing with the parts that totally suck. Your chosen path is the best set up to flourish and make the most of this one wild and precious life.
Ok, I can’t end on such a tender note. I’m going to leave you with the one quote from the article that made me LOL:
“Dur and van Lent (2019) document that about one in ten employees finds their job useless, with the share being the highest among those engaging in routine tasks as well as those in sales, finance, public relations, and marketing.” (Emphasis added is mine, I love you people and wish you a flourishing life.)