HR Tech Crisis

5 Qualities of Meaningful Work – Insights from MIT Sloan Research

Day in and day out. Every working day of the year. What is it that helps people show up at work? What do we really expect from work? ‘Strive along to get by’ or ‘thrive in peaceful excellence’? Can it be the monetary benefits? Or is it the power of a job title? Over and beyond these, the need to see a purpose or meaning in the work we do is a very basic human trait. A trait that we lose sight of in our everyday work. Why is meaningful work important?

Recent studies have shown that the meaningfulness of the work that employees are doing plays a key role in their attraction, dedication, and satisfaction towards it. This fact has been beautifully demonstrated in the MIT Sloan research paper that we are discussing here. To define Meaningfulness for employees researchers at MIT Sloan have captured opinions from people belonging to every job sector –  from artists to garbage collectors to corporate employees. This study indicates conclusive proof that if employees find meaning in their work, they are more likely to perform better than expected.

So what exactly plays a role in making work meaningful for the employees? Here are the 5 qualities of meaningful work according to this research:

  • Self-Transcendent: When your work does not affect you alone and the quality of your work is important for others as well, such behavior is transcendent. Employees, when they realize that what they are doing right now is going to make a difference to someone else’s life, start finding meaning in it. For example, a sales executive working in EdTech ‘sells’ better when they realise that every act of theirs will help a child learn better at school. A sense of deeper purpose sets in and that reflects in the way they ‘sell’. . This motivates them to perform better as what they are creating is making a difference to someone’s life who is using it.
  • Poignant: The moment that matters as we have talked so many times is important to define meaningfulness. Many people have cited how the small moments during their work, not necessarily happy ones, made them realize their love for their work and that increased their productivity.
  • Episodic: Strong experiences are a major motivator to do the job that you are doing wholeheartedly or to say in the words of this research paper, increase the meaningfulness. A soccer player dreaming of playing in the national championship since childhood, when he does play he is naturally going to give it all. Certain instances or stories define our meaningfulness.
  • Reflective: How many times have you done a task and almost forgot about it like making a few changes in the layout of the application and you suddenly read feedback saying users are loving this new design? It feels great right?  A reflection on what has been done before making a difference in people’s lives makes a person more strong-willed to perform better each day. Hence their meaningfulness increases.
  • Personal: Why you want to excel at a particular task is a unique story altogether. Everybody has a different story and everyone has walked a different path. Hence according to this research paper, the reason for meaningfulness is extremely retrospective. For example, why did you choose what you are doing right now?

So we see that meaningfulness is a very relative concept and will vary from person to person. Now let’s come to the next part of the research paper where the author talks about meaninglessness. What makes an employee start to hate what they are doing? 

While meaningfulness is personal, meaninglessness can be created by organizational mess and lack of empathy for the employees. How does that happen? 

Disconnection from values: When employers start focusing on the bottom line tasks and finishing deadlines, employees start to feel a disconnect from doing the thing they love.

Taking employees for granted: Do we need to say more? Acknowledgment is a small thing, saying thank you is a small thing but it makes a huge difference in the longer run. Start respecting your employees, listening to them, and seeing the difference.

Giving pointless work: If people are finding work that is meaningful to them, it means it has taken efforts from their side and a strong interest too. If you start giving them pointless work, meaninglessness starts to grow.

Treating People Unfairly: Bias of all sorts can demoralize a person and workplace bias (both conscious and unconscious) exist. Unfair distribution of work and disparity in pay also leads to dissatisfaction.

Override People’s Better Judgement: Constructive criticism and only criticism are two different things. When the decisions taken by the employees are outrightly rejected by their seniors, a sense of meaninglessness builds up.

Disconnecting People From Supporting Relationships: As the author said, feelings of isolation can lead to meaninglessness. This could occur through deliberate ostracism on the part of managers, or just through feeling disconnected from coworkers and teams.


Solving all these reasons will definitely result in enhanced productivity. In the longer run, it will help you build a committed team in the longer run. Berryworks, a deep learning employee voice platform can help you build it by focussing on the most important thing that is listening to your employees. 

Berry is a digital personality that can be an HR leader’s strongest ally and every employee’s biggest confidant. Berry can help measure and improve employee happiness. Berry uses deep learning to interact, interpret and drive accountability using actionable patterns that it learns. Berry is available to answer simple questions and is capable of having complex conversations with employees. HR Leaders use Berry to run campaigns that help them to understand the pulse of the organization around various topics. Conversations are then analyzed and actionable insights are drawn out instantaneously.