Monthly Archives: June 2010

Keeping Us Grounded

Hi Everyone,

What keeps us grounded? Many things keep us grounded, for example, mindfulness, humility and meaning.

The main content in this email is about meaning and purpose. See further below. First, I want to draw your attention to mindfulness and humility.

1) Sue Hays has recently launched the Canberra Mindfulness Centre.  I recommend you take a look.

2) Kathryn Britton wrote a great article on the strength of humility.

3) Meaning and Purpose

Meaning and Purpose
“Work matters – serving the greater good”

In all the stories I have heard from people who describe their memorable and positive experiences at work, i.e. those in which they had high job satisfaction, at some point I hear such words as ‘passion’, ‘committed’, ‘drive’, ‘I believed in what I was doing’, ‘it’s just what I do’. They realise they derived great meaning from that work.

Having meaning in one’s life is important to the quality of our life satisfaction and subjective well-being. (Refer at end for two journal article references and see here for further information:

But what do we know about finding meaning at work?

This is the subject of a chapter in a newly published book, The Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work, edited by Linley, Harrington and Page.

In this chapter the authors, Michael Steger and Bryan Dik, review the literature on this topic, the historical background, the factors which could contribute to meaning at work, and the known and proposed benefits of meaningful work. They acknowledge that there is more research to be done in this area.

Below I present some of the highlights from the book chapter.

Historical context….

‘Vocation’ comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning ‘to call’. In religious history there was a belief that ‘people were called by God to engage in a religious vocation.’ A number of historical scholars noted that beyond a religious calling, anyone could be engaged in ‘good work’ which ‘served a greater purpose and a greater good’. Work could be a call to ‘love one’s neighbour through the duties that accompany their social place or station’. They note that there is a dignity that comes from such work which is directly or indirectly a social service. The authors note that in modern days, the complexity and variety of work roles can sometimes lead to people becoming disconnected from their sense of service and meaning.

…and now

Referring to current research and thinking, ‘calling’ often refers to how work contributes to one’s own sense of purpose and that it contributes to the greater good. ‘People have been summoned to meaningful, socially valued work by a transcendent call….the common core of these concepts includes both the sense that one’s work is meaningful and purposeful and that it serves a need beyond one’s self and one’s immediate concerns’.

The components of meaning

The authors suggest that meaningful work comes from:

(1)   Comprehension – people develop a sense of identity which comes from knowing ‘who they are, how their world works and how they fit in with and related to the life around them’. Forming social connections with co-workers and understanding their organisation and its role in society adds to a person’s comprehension.

(2)   Purpose – ‘people’s identification of, and intention to pursue, particularly highly valued, over-arching life goals’.

Benefits of meaning

The authors draw on research and on their theoretical understanding of this area to propose benefits to suggest that engaging in meaningful work can result in enhanced:

  • motivation
  • work performance, effort, efficiency
  • self-efficacy
  • understanding of the organisation
  • psychological and physical well-being
  • satisfaction with work
  • happiness
  • faith in management
  • team functioning
  • attitudes at work
  • intrinsic motivation to work
  • mentoring and motivational skills
  • sense of self-transcendence

Implications and suggestions for leaders

Drawing from the commentary in the chapter, here are some suggestions for leaders and managers:

  • help people to understand how their role is important in contributing to the purpose of the organisation
  • help people to see how their individual purpose can be achieved by contributing to the organisation’s purpose, and thus use the organisation as an ‘instrument’ to find meaning at work
  • ensure the organisational purpose is clearly connected to the greater good, and that organisational goals align with that purpose
  • encourage social circles to thrive where workers see meaning as not just contributing to the work, but also to cultivating strong social connections
  • help workers to more deeply understand themselves and when they work at their best
  • get to know employees and what drives their meaning and purpose; put them in places where these needs can be met

“People and organisations prosper when they are engaged in meaningful work”.


Steger, M. F., & Dik, B. J. (2010). Work as meaning: Individual and organizational benefits of engaging in meaningful work. In Linley, P. A., Harrington, S. & Page, N (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology and work (pp. 131-142). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25–41.

Vella-Brodrick, D. A., Park, N. A., & Peterson, C. (2008). Three ways to be happy: Pleasure, engagement and meaning – findings from Australian and US samples. Social Indicators Research, 90, 165-179.

(This article also appeared on PPND, 3rd May 2010: )