In December 2019 – just before the world was hit by a global pandemic – our organisation, Beaumont People, released the Meaningful Work Insights Report, uncovering what Australians valued as meaningful work. Our goal was to equip organisations with insights to enable them to understand what Australian employees value in their career and work choices.
The report was the result of academic research that we’d commissioned to better understand what makes work meaningful. It was an Australian and world-first study, combining the psychological and sociological aspects of meaningful work.
It’s important to understand that meaningful work means different things to different people and can change with shifting life stages, as well as a rapidly changing environment, such as one caused by a pandemic!
From this research we define meaningful work as
… the importance an individual places on their work meeting their current personal beliefs, values, goals, expectations, and purpose in the context of their social and cultural environment.
We identified there are four factors of meaningful work – Individual, Job, Organisational and Societal – with sub-factors under each.
A few weeks ago, we released our 2023 Meaningful Work Insights Report revealing data for the 2021-2022 period. The report draws on almost 4,000 meaningful work profiles created by individuals. As you might expect, there have been some significant shifts since the pandemic.
The top three contributors to meaningful work in 2022 were:
- Safety (physical, mental, emotional)
Perhaps not a huge surprise when you consider the emotional impacts the pandemic had on people, especially when it came to personal safety and connection. Even more significant changes are revealed when we took a deeper dive into the data. Following are five key insights from our latest report.
- Workplace safety is non-negotiable
In 2019, 60 per cent of people strongly agreed that physical, mental and emotional safety is essential and would leave an organisation if they did not feel safe in that respect. This figure jumped to 70 per cent through the pandemic.
Perhaps a coincidence of low unemployment rates, plus safety can be a relative concept depending on circumstances, but it’s encouraging to see this figure increase. Hopefully, we are moving towards a future where more organisations provide workplaces that genuinely provide a base level of safety that everyone should be entitled to.
- Team collaboration is highly motivating
The desire for collaboration has increased since the pandemic. 95 per cent of people agreed overall that “contributing to and achieving team goals motivates me”, with 63 per cent of those strongly agreeing. This is up 8 per cent on the 2019 data, a sizeable increase. Perhaps not being with your team mates every day drove an increased desire to achieve more with them.
- The strength of desire for purpose is growing
Purpose continues its importance as a key contributor to meaningful work. What our data reveals however, is the strength of opinion on the need for purpose is growing. It will be interesting to observe if this results in more activism in workplaces.
- People before profit
An overwhelming majority of people (90 per cent) now believe that an organisation’s focus on profit should not be at the expense of people. “People before profit” is the new mantra and organisations will ignore this at their peril.
- Career development is critical
In 2019, only 58 per cent of people agreed that career development was critical to their success at work, compared to 78 per cent through the pandemic. This is a significant increase in a subset of the job factors.
Whilst much was written during the pandemic of people rethinking priorities, potentially abandoning stressful careers and moving to the country for quieter lives; this suggests instead that a growing majority are seeking a career with opportunities for progression. So much for quiet quitting!
In many ways, it appears that we made a shift towards what directly impacts us. Our needs are more localised, for ourselves and our teams, with a focus on safety, connection and purpose. As much as the data provides valuable insight, it also invites questions as we continue to work through dynamic times.
Will the changes to the workplace be here to stay?
Will we still seek more defined career pathways?
Will we see a rise in employee activism?
How will AI impact on jobs and expectations towards meaningful work?
And how does this all ring true for you personally? Has the pandemic shifted your views? Have you reassessed what is meaningful for you? Has reading this made you reflect on what is important in your workplace as a worker, manager or leader?
My personal hope is that this report will give leaders insights to navigate the changing world of work, so we can create better, healthier and fairer working environments for all. You can download the free 2023 Meaningful Work Insights Report here.
Written by Nina Mapson Bone.
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