Filling The ‘Meaning Deficit:’ Why Meaningful Work is Vital in a Post-COVID World

Filling The ‘Meaning Deficit:’ Why Meaningful Work is Vital in a Post-COVID World

via Thrive Global by Zach Mercurio

As people return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should be ready to address a hidden issue: a meaning deficit.

Historically, every significant disruption of how we work inflicted profound distress flamed by existential crises and the search for meaningfulness.

At the height of the second Industrial Revolution, in 1897, sociologist David Émile Durkheim published an enduring analysis of suicide. Durkheim found a central cause of acute mental distress was the loss or change of work. Not working, he found, depleted people of purpose, of having a social function and a meaningful contribution.

In 1938, as The Great Depression relented, psychologists Philip Eisenberg and Paul Lazarsfeld discovered that unemployment resulted in a profound loss of identity characterized by brokenness and instability.

Even among a large group of workers who kept their jobs through the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009, Stanford University researchers found in-patient visits for mental health-related services were nearly four times higher than before the downturn. Feelings of uselessness and worthlessness were the most significant commonalities among those with mental health issues.

Uselessness and worthlessness are symptoms of meaninglessness, a pivotal contributor to feelings of despair.

Unlike these previous challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis of both work and health insecurity intensified by the necessary but inhuman practices social distancing and isolation.

Even more than past economic disruptions, the pieces are in place for distress induced by our collective, unavoidable grasp for meaning in disorder.

And whether we like it or not, work dominates human life and is an inescapable context through which we make meaning of life itself. 

Enabling meaningful work should be a priority for leaders and is a learnable skill.

The Coming Meaning Deficit

For the currently employed, the unemployed, and soon-to-be re-employed, emerging research shows the pandemic is prompting serious self-reflection. 

New surveys show people who can work from home are spending more time contemplating the quality and meaning of their jobs and lives. Many are reflecting on their roles outside of work and trying to determine how to meet all of life’s demands.

A study from Alicia Sasser Modestino, an economics professor at Northeastern University, found that many, predominately women, have considered quitting their jobs to keep up with childcare and life demands. Yet, even 11% of men surveyed – said they, too, are considering leaving their current position.

For the 55 million essential workers who ensured everyone else could stay home, the sudden and short-lived public praise of their jobs reveals disparities between their value to society and the value their employers place on them.

The millions of people facing job and financial insecurity, unemployment, and those who’ll get hired back after months without work, are more at risk for feelings of meaninglessness, especially as many take less-than-ideal jobs to survive.

Add to these issues the widespread calls for social reform and racial justice that have led many to explore unexamined existential questions, and the ingredients are there for a looming meaning deficit. 

Filling The Meaning Deficit Through Enabling Meaningful Work

Experiencing purpose, significance, and mattering in work isn’t a luxury, a generational preference, or a nice-to-have. For centuries, psychologists, philosophers, and now neuroscientists find that meaningfulness is a fundamental human need.

My and others’ research finds that meaningful work is desired and accessible in nearly any job or occupation, including work people take to earn a paycheck.

While it’s tempting to argue, especially in an economic recovery, that people just need income to survive, it’s essential to acknowledge that human beings are simultaneously what they basically need and what they inherently desire.

That’s why leaders and economists need to understand the difference between the meaning of work (i.e., to earn a paycheck) and meaning in work (i.e., to experience mattering, worth, and dignity). 

If we’ve learned anything from the aftershocks from each of the major financial disasters and work revolutions, it’s that a job won’t cure despair if the person experiences despair in the job.

Many politicians and economists obsess about the quantity of jobs, but organizational leaders should focus on ensuring the quality of those jobs.

Decades of studies now show that experiencing work as positive, purposeful, and significant is a predictor of positive outcomes like motivation, engagement, and overall well-being in life.

Oxford University professor Ruth Yeoman writes that meaningful work must be recognized as a fundamental human need because it satisfies the inescapable human interests of dignity, freedom, and autonomy.

When those interests are not met, either because of unemployment or by a degrading job, a sense of hopelessness, desperation, and meaninglessness can ensue, especially in already vulnerable populations.

How to Make Work More Meaningful

recent study by Mckinsey & Company found that over 55% of what contributes to employee well-being and engagement come from non-financial or job security factors.

The most significant factors in enhancing overall well-being are individual purpose and contribution, social cohesion and inclusion, and trusting relationships. These elements serve as the basis for creating environments that facilitate meaningfulness.

Here are some ways to enable meaningful work…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE

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