A Good Job’s a Meaningful Job

What do employees want? Joel Spolsky says that what they most want is to grow, to learn. Robert Half once showed that what they want is a stable job, and what would cause them to leave their jobs is better pay and benefits.

The latest such query comes from Hogan Assessments, which asked 941 people, “”What do you consider most important in a job? Rank your priorities from 1 to 10, with one being most important.”

The priorities they could choose from: benefits; interesting/meaningful work; office hours/location; opportunity for advancement; relationships; responsibility/control of own work; salary; job security; training, learning, and development; working conditions.

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This time around, at least, interesting/meaningful work was the big winner — as the graphic shows.


12 Comments on “A Good Job’s a Meaningful Job

  1. Thanks Todd. What is “meaningful? “Meaningful” to whom?
    At least I think I understand “interesting”….


  2. Keith, meaningful to you primarily. Not just classic 9-5er but a job you care about.

    I couldn’t agree more with the results of the survey. People seem to start appreciating life more – and 8-or-more hours a day is too much to ‘waste’ on something that doesn’t bring satisfaction, just money.

  3. Meaning is constructed by each individual. Identifying and defining what gets your mojo going, what harmonizes with your motivational pattern, and what employers will recognize and reward you for requires some deliberate and intentional analysis as outlined here in this free webinar that shows how a verification engineer who was “dying” in his job transitioned to job joy as a manager of product marketing: http://www.jobjoy.com/webinar-registration/
    George Dutch

  4. Excuse my cynicism, but these surveys seem to be designed to tell employers to not worry about actually paying people fair market for their work, and I find them annoying. ‘Meaningful’ work that doesn’t pay the bills isn’t worth a damn thing to anyone, unless of course they also find it meaningful to sleep in a cardboard box. But my guess is employers would rather hear/read that painting their walls taupe will contribute more to employee happiness than actually paying them something approaching a market wage.

  5. Actually this makes perfect sense. If we consider that the wording is “what’s most important”, that doesn’t mean the other items are mutually exclusive. So if you had two roles one paid a bit higher say 5k but would be a complete assault on your own personal morals and the other a bit less but really speaks to you, what is most important? Ofcourse if it pays 50k difference that becomes harder.

    From a psychology perspective this makes sense though. In years past working for one employer your whole career was the goal – stability. Now people are seeking more fulfillment in work, in love, and in life in general. Our focus as a society has shifted in what we expect to achieve overall.

  6. What people generally want is job satisfaction, and that comes in different shapes and sizes for different people. To some it may be all about the money, for others, the hours, the location, the way the office is laid out, their colleagues/bosses etc. etc. etc. Get a combo of all or most of the things that are on your job wish list and it all adds up to job satisfaction.

  7. @ Piotr: Thank you. I think having a personally fulfilling aka “meaningful” job is one of those quaint Mid/Late-Twen Cen (largely) American concepts, like “privacy”,”fair elections”, and the “Middle Class”. Until we reach much better economic times (which is likely to be a long time coming), most people if they aren’t part of the “Fabulous 5%” that are constantly being drooled over here on ERE and elsewhere should be glad for something that pays fairly decently, gives them decent health insurance, and won’t drive them slowly or quickly insane.

    @ Richard: Well said. Maybe the surveyed say they’re looking for “meaning” because they know the y won’t be getting, decent pay, benefits, QoWL, etc?

    @ Heather: I hope you are right. At the same time, as more and more Americans are lacking the stability that many of our parents had, as well as the increasing unaffordability of many of the things they took for granted, housing, medical care, home ownership, college education, I think much of society will shift back to more of a survival/security and less of an actualization mode of thinking.

    @ Alasdair: I’d say eliminate the things you DON’T want in a job, and if you have few/none remaining (or they’re minor)- THEN you have job satisfaction….


  8. Interesting thread! I conduct academic research on meaningful work. The above results corroborate my own national research, and results of the last 20 years from NORC’s General Social Survey (the GSS asks an almost identical question on ‘interesting work’, as well as a question on ‘socially useful’ work).

    What’s interesting about many of the seemingly disparate posts is that they’re all supported or evidence-based!

    Meaning IS constructed differently by each individual. There are a variety of ways to find meaning, yet, the same 9-10 dimensions keep coming up in research. Meaningful work (put simply, without giving the academic definition) is work that is perceived as enabling or maintaining meaning in one of more of those areas. Some of the ‘meaningful’ facets that tend to stick together in factor analyses are self-actualizing work, social impact, personal goals/values alignment with jobs/work/employers, and a sense of personal accomplishment. The fact that ‘interesting work’ has been endorsed by the majority of people in separate studies suggests that this is an area of importance shared by many people. It isn’t constructed differently by different people.

    Is is money or is it meaningful work? It’s both. It’s a two-stage motivational process. People need a requisite amount of money to be comfortable and to satisfy perceptions of equity. Beyond that, people pursue intrinsic needs (e.g., meaning-based goals and values). Money has rarely shown impacts on motivation and behaviour beyond these amounts in decades of research.

    Some people can be cynical about these kinds of results, and prefer to pursue extrinsic (e.g., money) goals rather than intrinsic (e.g., meaning) goals. There are variety of ways of getting to this place, for example: 1) your current pay level is not equitable, 2), you have always been more extrinsically-motivated than intrinsically-motivated (actually quite rare), or 3) you used to be more intrinsically-motivated, but have become more extrinsically-motivated because of bad experiences with employers and employment (“Fool me once, shame on me…just pay me”). Number 3) is understandable, given the evolution of work and corporations over the past 30 thirty years. Some of the people who endorsed ‘interesting work’ may still be cynical, and more likely to choose a raise over more meaningful work, but that doesn’t stop them from desiring more interesting work – hence, the endorsement.

    I can ensure anyone that my own surveys (and those of NORC’s) are not designed to tell employers anything. This is pure, peer-reviewed, non-funded research.

    I’ve also found reports of meaningful work to be the strongest drivers of satisfaction, commitment, engagement, discretionary effort, stay intentions, physical and mental health symptoms (Centers for Disease Control Measures), low burnout, low depression, low stress, and low anxiety in 2 national studies in 50 states.

    Here’s a link to one of my recent journal articles. More in press!


  9. It’s because of the younger generation being lost. This new technology age and people growing apart without realizing it at such a quic and rapid rate, we’re loosing a large connection with who we are and what are we doing. Unfortunatly with the way times are progressing and the econmy I thinkwe’re setting ourselves up for failure. We were raised to chase our dreams, but life was a lot easier to chase the american dream. Wake up younger generation, you want security!

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