An introduction to Worthwhile work

Having a strong sense that our work matters to colleagues, the organization and society makes us feel good. A sense of purpose motivates us to do great work.

14 Worthwhile work

Why it’s important

Feeling that the work we do has a purpose and is worthwhile is linked to what we accomplish at work, but it also flows from feeling what we do is meaningful and valuable. Our research shows worthwhile work is one of the strongest predictors of happiness at work across many cultures and job types and is particularly related to feeling interested in work. Whether it’s a barrister in London or a fisherman in the Philippines, we’ve seen how the rituals and identities we form around work become drivers of satisfaction and wellbeing.

Many people spend the biggest portion of their waking life in the workplace. It follows then that we need to feel inspired by what we do, and that what we do has some sort of meaning. Finding purpose in our work helps us lead more fulfilled, productive lives. For example, those who feel their job is valuable to people they know or society at large report higher levels of job satisfaction. Daniel Pink’s work on motivation places a sense of purpose at the heart of a good job. When we are motivated by a higher purpose and feel our contribution matters to management, we are more effective in our roles and more loyal to our employers.

What one of our experts says

“Clients are often surprised that employees have lost sight of how their work contributes to the bigger picture. Often impact is there and it’s felt by others, but this isn’t visible to the individual toiling away. The larger the organization or supply chain from factory to shop floor, the more difficult it is to trace impact. A lot can be done by connecting the dots. Some organizations use team meetings, all-company events, and in-house magazines to provide progress updates on shared goals and celebrate the ways teams and individuals have contributed to them. One of my health service clients started a campaign to say thank-you to colleagues more often. A retail client sent pictures of happy customers to the staff responsible for making the jumpers the company sold”. Dr Jody Aked, Friday

How we measure it

To measure worthwhile work, we ask:

Do you feel the work you do is worthwhile?

The question focuses on how meaningful and useful work feels. The word “worthwhile” is used instead of “meaningful” because we’ve found people interpret “worthwhile” with greater ease in a work context.

: Robert Half (2017) It’s time we all work happy. The secrets of the happiest companies and employees. Robert Half Retrieved from : Sousa-Poza, A., & Sousa-Poza, A. A. (2000). Well-being at work: a cross-national analysis of the levels and determinants of job satisfaction. The journal of socio-economics, 29(6), 517-538. : Seligman, M.E.P. (2002) Authentic happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Simon & Schuster; Pink, D.H. (2009) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.