Taylor Swift just showed us what meaningful work looks like.

Taylor Swift made history at the 2024 Grammy Awards, winning Album of the Year for her album Midnights. She is the only artist to ever win the award four times. As she accepted the speech, she expressed love and elation for her chosen line of work.

“I would love to tell you that this is the best moment in my life. But I feel this happy when I’ve finished a song or when I’ve cracked the code to a bridge that I love or when I’m shot listing a music video, or when I’m rehearsing with my dancers or my band or getting ready to go to Tokyo to play a show,” she said.

“For me, the award is the work. All I want to do is keep being able to do this. I love it so much. It makes me so happy. It makes me unbelievably blown away that it makes some people happy who voted for this award too. All I want to do is keep doing this. So thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to do what I love so much,” she closed as she expressed gratitude for friends and others who work with her.

Her beautiful expression of gratitude became a visceral example of the success that can come when you find work that is meaningful to you.

What is meaningful work?

Mark Twain famously said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” In research, this is the concept of meaningful work — the sense of purpose and fulfillment one gets from their job beyond financial compensation. Many of us are lucky to have found work we’re passionate about. A study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that 69% of employees agreed that their work was meaningful(2). This highlights a significant prevalence of humans who have found meaningful work and the potential for individuals to derive satisfaction and fulfillment from their jobs.

It might be hard to imagine loving work in the modern workforce, where economic headwinds frequently lead to mass layoffs, less people doing more work, and the pervasiveness of burnout. The truth is, loving your occupation or even your craft don’t make these worries go away, but it can help alleviate some of it.

People who have a sense of purpose in their job experience profound positive effects:

  • Higher Engagement, Satisfaction & Well-Being. Research has found that individuals who perceive their work as meaningful experience higher levels of job engagement, job satisfaction, and psychological well-being1.
  • Lower Burnout. They are also more likely to experience lower levels of burnout and have higher levels of motivation and commitment to their organizations(3).
  • Better Physical Health. Furthermore, employees who find their work meaningful tend to have better physical health and higher life satisfaction(1).

In a 2020 study of 218 working mothers in the United States, deriving meaning and purpose from one’s job was the greatest predictor of whether mothers intended to stay in their job, company, or even their profession(5). More powerful than pay, benefits, or having a supportive work environment, mothers were willing to stay in jobs despite increasing and conflicting work and family responsibilities if their work strongly meant something to them. This data was collected during the global COVID-19 pandemic, arguably one of the most difficult times for workers in the US.

Meaningful work isn’t new. In fact, it has existed in Japanese culture in the form of ‘Ikigai’. Described as “a reason for being” or “a purpose in life,” is the intersection of what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs, and what we can be rewarded for. When these elements align, we experience deep fulfillment and purpose. Aligning our work with our passions is crucial. It goes beyond earning a living; it becomes a path to personal growth and self-expression. Research suggests that having a strong sense of ikigai can even contribute to longevity, lower mortality risk(15) and risk of age-related disease(16).

Does loving your job really contribute to success?

Research consistently demonstrates that meaningful work contributes to successful work outcomes. Here’s some research-backed insights into how meaningful work can enhance your overall career success.

  • Increased Productivity & Proactivity. When employees find their work meaningful, they tend to be more engaged, committed, and motivated(6). This leads to increased productivity, as individuals are genuinely invested in their work(7). Furthermore, employees who find their work meaningful are more likely to exhibit proactive behavior and go above and beyond their job requirements(8).
  • Higher Levels of Job Performance. Meaningful work has been linked to higher job performance and individual effectiveness(9). When individuals feel a sense of purpose and meaning in their work, they are more likely to be proactive, innovative, and strive for excellence. They are driven by a desire to make a positive impact and contribute to the success of their organization(10).
  • Improved Well-being and Reduced Burnout. Better psychological well-being and lower levels of burnout(11) contribute to higher overall happiness and satisfaction, buffering against the negative effects of stress and increasing resilience(12).
  • Increased Creativity and Innovation. Meaningful work has been linked to enhanced creativity and innovation in the workplace(14). When individuals are intrinsically motivated by a sense of purpose, they are more likely to think creatively, seek out new solutions, and take calculated risks, increasing success in the face of challenge and competition.

Companies should want employees to have meaning, too.

Not only do employees benefit from meaningful work, but companies also reap numerous advantages by fostering purpose-driven environments. Organizations that prioritize meaningful work experience increased employee engagement, productivity, and retention rates(2). Research has found that purposeful work environments lead to higher levels of job performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and customer satisfaction(3). Companies that provide employees with a sense of purpose also see reduced absenteeism and turnover, leading to cost savings in recruitment and training expenses(4). Employees who find their work meaningful are more likely to report higher levels of job commitment and intention to stay with their organization(13). When individuals feel connected to their work on a deeper level, they are more likely to remain loyal and committed to their organization. This commitment helps foster a positive organizational culture and improves employee retention rates. The culture of innovation that results from increased creativity and can lead to improved problem-solving and organizations staying ahead in a competitive market.

How can I find meaningful work?

It all starts with you. Maybe you’ve never thought about having a sense of purpose at work. A job can often be a means to a financial or secure end. As a young person, you may have been taught that work wasn’t designed to be enjoyed at all. Or maybe you just haven’t had the luxury of choice. If this is you, getting to the same level of work happiness as Taylor Swift can seem like a far-flung dream. But spending time observing yourself and your work and making small trade-offs where possible can get you closer to the sense of satisfaction we all deserve as humans.

Spend time thinking about the tips below and write down your thoughts.

  1. Reflect on personal values. Take the time to identify your core values and determine how they align with potential job opportunities. Consider what makes you feel fulfilled and purposeful in your work.
  2. Explore your passions. Reflect on the activities that bring you joy, fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment. Seek opportunities that allow you to engage in these activities.
  3. Seek alignment with organizational mission. When searching for work, look for companies whose missions and values align with your own. Research the company’s purpose, vision, and values to ensure they resonate with you.
  4. Evaluate job responsibilities and seek growth. Assess whether your current or potential job responsibilities and tasks align with your skills, interests, and values. Continuously learn and acquire new skills that align with your interests and career goals. Meaningful work often involves an awareness of your strengths and using them to make a positive impact.
  5. Consider workplace culture and relationships. Evaluate the company’s culture and work environment. Look for supportive and collaborative cultures that foster employee growth, development, and recognition. Cultivate relationships that inspire and challenge you, fostering collaboration and a sense of purpose within your team.
  6. Find connections between your work and its impact. Reflect on how your work contributes to the broader picture. Recognize the positive impact you are making, whether it’s on individuals, communities, or society. Understanding the significance of your contribution can deepen your sense of purpose.

If you work full-time in the United States, you might spend over 35% of your waking hours working. How we feel about work can have a big impact on how we feel in general. If you’re not currently able to change your job for meaning’s sake, evaluating your current situation will help you make decisions about your career as opportunities and daily choices arise, identifying more opportunities to foster purpose and meaning. Continually making choices for meaningful work can be difficult and can even test some of our dominant thinking. But doing it (even a little) can lead to a more fulfilling and rewarding career journey and maybe even a longer, more fulfilling life.

References
  1. Bailey, C., Yeoman, R., Madden, A., Thompson, M., & Kerridge, G. (2019). A Review of the Empirical Literature on Meaningful Work: Progress and Research Agenda. Research in Organizational Behavior, 39, 17-40.
  2. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). (2017). Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: Optimizing Organizational Culture for Success.
  3. Martela, F., Gomez, M., Unanue, W., Araya, S., Bravo, D., & Espejo, A. (2021). What makes work meaningful? Longitudinal evidence for the importance of task autonomy, job emotions, and prosocial impact. Journal of Business Psychology, 36(3), 367-382.
  4. Lips-Wiersma, M., & Wright, S. (2012). Measuring the Meaning of Meaningful Work: Development and Validation of the Comprehensive Meaningful Work Scale (CMWS). Group & Organization Management, 37(5), 655-685.
  5. Ingel-Champion, R. (2021). Opting in or Out: The Moderating and Mediating Effects of Psychological Capital and Family-Supportive Organization Perceptions on Work-Family Conflict and Turnover Intentions among Working Mothers (Doctoral dissertation, Alliant International University).
  6. Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.
  7. Grant, A. M., Christianson, M. K., & Price, R. H. (2007). Happiness, health, or relationships? Managerial practices and employee well-being tradeoffs. Academy of Management Perspectives, 21(3), 51-63.
  8. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). Redesigning work design theories: The rise of relational and proactive perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375.
  9. Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16(2), 250-279.
  10. Rosso, B. D., Dekas, K. H., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010). On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review. Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 91-127.
  11. Steger, M. F., Dik, B. J., & Duffy, R. D. (2012). Measuring meaningful work: The work and meaning inventory (WAMI). Journal of Career Assessment, 20(3), 322-337.
  12. Wrzesniewski, A., McCauley, C. R., Rozin, P., & Schwartz, B. (1997). Jobs, careers, and callings: People’s relations to their work. Journal of Research in Personality, 31(1), 21-33.
  13. Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., & McKee, M. C. (2007). Transformational leadership and psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(3), 193-203.
  14. Amabile, T. M. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to the social psychology of creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  15. Kim, E. S., Hershner, S. D., & Strecher, V. J. (2019). Purpose in life and incidence of sleep disturbances. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 42(6), 1050-1057.
  16. Alimujiang, A., Wiensch, A., Boss, J., & Fleischer, N. L. (2019). Association between life purpose and mortality among US adults older than 50 years. JAMA Network Open, 2(5), e194270-e194270.