Is there a movement toward meaningful and worthwhile work? Are people increasingly interested in pursuing work that contributes to a more equitable, just, sustainable and inclusive world? Do people increasingly want work that makes the most of their talents? A job they are proud of?
Its certainly getting a push from Gen X and Gen Y concerns about sustainability and purpose, but the trend seems much broader. The rise of thinking in areas such as Appreciative Inquiry, social responsibility, positive psychology, workplace happiness and complexity together with a raft of applications for narrative (both storytelling and narrative insight / storylistening) are other indicators.
A sizeable UK study in January 2008 suggested that "over three quarters of working people in the UK are concerned that the job they do should be worthwhile and almost half hanker after a job that is more worthwhile than the one they have at the moment." The table below from this study shows how key aspects of worthwhile work vary across age groups.
Another indicator of the rise of worthwhile work is the emergence of organisations such as EthicalJobs that connects people who are looking for worthwhile work with employers who offer jobs that make a difference. I like that these guys promote their brand image like this..."our office runs on 100% Green Power, we drink 100% FairTrade tea and coffee, and we use only bikes, feet & public transport to get around" They recently published survey results suggesting that there is a movement towards worthwhile work with many people prepared to take a decent pay cut to get such jobs.
For me there is one other key aspect of worthwhile work - being valued. This is an area where managers have an incredible influence of the extent to which people consider their work as being worthwhile. Why do we have workplaces that cause my sister to start crying while we are cleaning up after dinner on Friday night when she explains how her boss treats her like dirt.
Managers need to be mindful that a key part of their role is to build engagement and to create more interactions like this one...
My brand new manager (a young up-and-comer) rang me on Friday afternoon as I was driving home. He said "I'm just ringing to let you know how much I value what you do. You regularly top the sales results and have been doing that for years. I wanted to make sure you knew that what you do is noticed and how much it is appreciated. Have a great weekend." I had to pull over to the side of the road. In the past eleven years, through three previous managers, no-one had ever said anything like that to me before. I started crying...
There is a trend toward worthwhile work. And there are huge advantages for all of us in accelerating and broadening its uptake.