In his book ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’, Alain De Botton cautions us about restricting the idea of meaningful work to doctors and the nuns of Kolkata, and that there are indeed many ways to contribute to the furtherance of the collective good across multiple industries. This was most evident during the lockdown when the definition of “key workers” was expanded beyond the NHS to many others, including supermarket and factory workers, home delivery people, and those who maintain the broadband service on which we all depend on. It became as vital to have people producing pasta as ventilator machines. Bus drivers from vulnerable groups who died helping front line hospital workers get to work were of equal value to those they drove.
This all points to the need to make the connection between what individuals do in their daily work and the positive impact they can have on others, particularly as we move to a ‘new normal’ and the majority of us are reflecting on what work (and life overall) means to us. People are not just motivated by money or status, we are also ‘meaning-focused animals’ as De Botton says. Organisations should therefore ensure that meaning in life for it’s employees can include the individual contribution they make at work each day, and how this can drive feelings of worth. It is also why special attention is needed when matching the right employee with the right type of work and employer.
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