Meaningful Work: What Does It All Mean?

Meaningful Work: What Does It All Mean?

So, what does meaningful work really mean?

Meaningful Work: What Does It All Mean? - Joseph Homes

It’s a question that’s becoming more and more important in workplaces the world over. As the line between work and life becomes increasingly blurred, a job becomes more than just a salary, more than just a way of looking after yourself and your family.

A job needs to mean something. Employees don’t just want a means to an end; they want to know that what they’re doing day-to-day serves a wider purpose. They want to feel part of something more than just the chase for a paycheque.

But it’s not all about employees. Businesses stand to gain from this shift in attitudes too. Research shows that people are more productive, creative and engaged when they feel like their work is contributing to a wider goal. All this makes for a healthier, happier, more productive workplace.

So, how can employers make sure that work means something to their employees?

A Clear Purpose, Clearly Communicated

A clear purpose is vital for any company. It establishes why that company exists, what it stands for and what it wants to achieve. But it’s just as vital that this purpose is clearly communicated and understood at all levels of the company.

Without a clear purpose in mind, the emails you spend your days responding to or the invoices you spend hours actioning can, unsurprisingly, start to feel meaningless. When you understand these tasks within the context of something bigger, they quickly gain meaning.

There’s the famous anecdote about the cleaner at NASA who, when asked by JFK what his role was, he replied that he was helping to put a man on the moon.

While we aren’t taking on space travel quite yet, here at Joseph Homes we know the importance of ensuring our employees feel part of our wider mission.

We have a strong set of values, developed with our employees, which drive our company-wide culture and behaviour. We also have our purpose lovingly printed up on the walls of our office, giving new and existing employees a daily snapshot of what they’re working towards and what we stand for as a team and a business.

These might seem like simple gestures, but they mean that everyday tasks are put into perspective, understood in terms of our larger company purpose and, ultimately, bestowed with meaning.

A Tangible Impact

As with most activities, work becomes infinitely more meaningful when you get to see the fruits of your labour. As an employee, witnessing and appreciating the impact your work has on the world at large can be hugely rewarding.

And it’s important to note that this idea of a tangible impact doesn’t just relate to charity workers helping the homeless, doctors treating sick patients or scientists developing cures for life-threatening illnesses. It relates to any profession. Whether you’re a coder working on a new app or an architect designing a new building, you’re helping to make people’s lives better.

So, how can businesses show their employees how much of an impact their work is having?

It can often be as simple as making a link between employees and end-users. For example, a Harvard Business School experiment found that when chefs or cooks could see who was ordering their food, either in person or through a video stream, they started to work differently. They took more care in their work, and their reported job satisfaction grew significantly. Simply being able to see the people who’d be eating their food made their work more meaningful. (1)

That’s why we make sure every employee at Joseph Homes gets to see and celebrate the impact their work is having. Whether we’ve just housed a young family in their first home, or we’ve gained planning permission for an exciting new site, we take pride in hosting site visits and sharing success stories throughout the whole company.

Paths to Progression

We believe the workplace should be a space for development and growth. With this in mind, we’re on a mission to build an environment where exceptionally talented people come together to fulfil their potential and raise the bar for the whole industry.

We do this by measuring our success by the benefit we bring to those we affect. This doesn’t just mean our customers; it means our team as well. We help each team member become the best version of themselves in the workplace. This spans more than just progression and financial gain. It spans training, qualifications, feedback, and professional and personal skills.

Interestingly, studies have found that managerial praise is more motivating than cash bonuses, and that peer-to-peer recognition is 35.7% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only praise. (2)

We get this, and we give every Joseph Homes employee a clear idea of ‘what good looks like’, along with a professional development programme to help them achieve that. This spans workplace training and mentoring programmes, together with clear feedback structures, regular appraisals and on-site courses in leadership to give everyone the professional and people skills they need to get where they want to be.

Beyond this, we run a flat structure, where authority is pushed downwards, giving everyone true ownership of their work, while empowering and celebrating independent, creative thinking.

Reaping the Rewards

So, when it comes to meaningful work, there’s no magic bullet. There’s no one way of imbuing work with meaning. Because we all find meaning in different places.

For many of us, it’s the feeling that we’re contributing to a wider company purpose, a purpose we believe in. For others, it’s seeing the impact our work is having, seeing our efforts borne out in the real world. And for others still, it’s developing ourselves, building on our own knowledge base and skillset.

As employers, it’s our job to consider these different perspectives, to understand what makes work meaningful for our employees. From here, we can make sure day-to-day work means something across our whole company.

Like everyone else, we’re on a journey and we’re learning along the way. But when we do get it right, we’ll reap the rewards of a more engaged, more productive, more enthusiastic team. A team brought together behind our mission to make life better by building better homes for a better world.


  • Reference: Buell, Tami Kim, and Chia-Jung Tsay, “Creating reciprocal value through operational transparency,” Management Science, June 2017, Volume 63, Number 6, pp. 1673–95.
Meaningful Work: What Does It All Mean? - Joseph Homes Meaningful Work: What Does It All Mean? - Joseph Homes
Meaningful Work: What Does It All Mean? - Joseph Homes Meaningful Work: What Does It All Mean? - Joseph Homes
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