This is a great TEDx talk by Ryan Hartwig, co-author of Teams that Thrive. It’s called “The Myth of Meaningful Work.”
Does this mean that we are wrong-headed in wanting our work to be meaningful?
Not in the slightest. What he means is this: meaning is not something first of all found in the job. Rather, meaning is something you bring to the job. We make our work meaningful. We can (and must) bring meaning to our jobs.
Meaning is in the way the work is done, and therefore any task — whether it is regarded as “meaningful” by society or not — can be done with incredible significance.
In fact, it used to be that most people did experience a deep connection between their work and meaning. So what happened?
We changed the way we do work as a society in the quest to utterly maximize efficiency. The result was that we turned work, which is in itself meaningful, into alienating labor. We forced people to start doing work in ways that take the meaning out of their tasks by reducing the space for personal initiative and contribution and introducing more control-oriented management practices.
Of course, as he points out, there were many excellent benefits of scientific management. It really did increase efficiency, and that was needed. But the principles were taken too far.
What we need to do is find ways to help people overcome the gap between work and meaning that has been imposed so often not from the tasks themselves, but from the way in which we make people do them.
The talk is a great overview of these things, and closes with four suggestions for helping people bring meaning back into their work.