Two people do similar jobs. Lets say they are both cleaners only one works in a hospital and the other an office. One finds the work boring and pointless but the other finds it satisfying and meaningful.
Assuming all other things are equal, (age, gender, intelligence, income, etc.) what’s going on? The difference between these two people comes down to how they think about their job and the little extras that give the job some meaning.
Extending the boundaries of a job can make a big difference in the ways we view one another. A cleaner in a hospital who also takes a little time to chat to patients tends to view their work as more meaningful than one who works in a bubble. They might work in a bubble because communication is discouraged or looked on, or they might simply pull a night shift and work in isolation.
Some work roles are very tightly defined but some things at least have eased up a little. Back in the early1980s I remember the frustration of a friend who worked in a hospital and needed a light bulb changing. She had to write a work requisition for someone to bring a ladder and another for an electrician to change the bulb. The person with the ladder wasn’t allowed to leave it (health and safety) and so hung they around for an hour waiting for the electrician to arrive. No wonder more flexible working practices were welcomed with open arms.
Putting some meaning into a job that at first appears meaningless requires a little thought and action. It’s a process called reframing.
How do we Reframe?
- If your job is to stand by a conveyor belt and pack boxes your scope for reframing is pretty limited, although you could ask to rotate to other jobs. In fact varying the number or type of activities you undertake one way of reframing a job.
- Another is to increase the number and nature of the relationships you have with others.
- A third is to reflect on the wider importance of your job. If the floors and surfaces weren’t cleaned the chances of infection increases, already ill people may become more distressed, which puts an additional burden on other staff, and so on.
Work is a significant part of most adult lives and whether you view your work as a job, a career, or a calling, meaning is important for a variety of reasons. It reduces stress by providing a stable foundation and giving a sense of purpose to the things we do. We may have to provide our own meaning and in this sense it is very personal to know why we do what we do.