Series on Meaningfulness at Work – Effect on health

When you are not satisfied with your job, will the sentiment really effect your health? As per a study from the American Sociological Association, job-related dissatisfaction experienced even in the 20s and 30s can lead to overall health issues just 10 or 20 years down the line, as per a study from the American Sociological Association. Read on about the alarming statistics on this issue.

“We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” said lead author Jonathan Dirlam, a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University. Dirlam and his team analyzed data from over 6,000 participants in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which has been tracking outcomes of participants since 1979. The researchers examined the participants’ job satisfaction trajectories from age 25 to 39, and then compared that data with the health conditions reported by the same participants after they turned 40. What they discovered was people who were unhappier in their jobs early in their careers were also the most prone to illness, particularly mental health problems, in their 40s. They were more depressed, had more emotional issues and sleep problems and suffered from excessive worry.

Physical ailments were also more likely, though to a lesser degree. Those with lower job satisfaction tended to report more problems like back pain and frequent colds than those who were happier at work. “We found that those with lower job satisfaction levels throughout their late 20s and 30s have worse mental health compared to those with high job satisfaction levels,” Dirlam told CBS News. “Those who initially had high job satisfaction but downwardly decreased over time also had worse health.”

Co-author Hui Zheng, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State, said the findings reveal the importance that early jobs have on people’s lives and well-being. “You don’t have to be near the end of your career to see the health impact of job satisfaction, particularly on your mental health,” he said. Zheng added that though researchers found little difference in other health problems like cancer and diabetes, those issues might be expected later in life among those with lower job satisfaction levels.

“The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems,” he said. “Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won’t show up until they are older.”

The study suggests a clear correlation between job satisfaction and health.In a 2003 meta-analysis of 485 studies on the subject, job satisfaction was found to be strongly associated with psychological problems such as burnout, depression and anxiety. A modest link between job happiness and physical illness was also found.

Job satisfaction is “an important factor influencing the health of workers,” the authors of the analysis concluded. “Organizations should include the development of stress management policies to identify and eradicate work practices that cause most job dissatisfaction as part of any exercise aimed at improving employee health,” the authors advised. “Occupational health clinicians should consider counselling employees diagnosed as having psychological problems to critically evaluate their work and help them to explore ways of gaining greater satisfaction from this important aspect of their life.”


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One-on-One Coaching on Communication skills for senior managers

This quarter, we successfully completed two separate 1-on-1 coaching interventions for senior management level coachees.

The first coachee, belonged to a large consulting organization in the Finance domain. He had challenges around presenting to senior stakeholders, especially from other geographies. The challenges were largely aroundstructure of the presentation and inability to present the value proposition clearly & concisely, poor body language, monotonous voice quality. By the end of the coaching interventionthere was atremendous improvement overall presentation skills.Some of the quantifiable upgrades in performance were enhanced ability to structure presentations effectively and make them concise, elimination of monotony in speech, improved audibility and energy levels&body language in sync with the content of the presentations. This is feedback we received from the program sponsor who was the head of the business.

The second coaching intervention was for a prominent multinational bank. This intervention required us to help the coachee overcome challenges around English language including pronunciation, intonation and avoiding indianisms. Out of the 8 sound switches and corruptions observed in the pre-coaching assessment, we were able to get 2 completely eliminated and a remarkable reduction in the remaining 6. The coachee also received a lot of appreciation and positive feedback from his reporting managers in India and the UK

Series Meaningfulness at Work: Being engaged

There are many things in the work environment that are outside of our control. But if we want to be happier and more fulfilled at work, we have the power to change our attitude and be completely engaged in whatever it is that we are doing.

While walking down the street, a man saw three bricklayers at work. He walked up to the first bricklayer and asked, “What are you doing?” The first bricklayer replied, “I am laying bricks.” The man walked up to the second bricklayer and asked, “What are you doing?” The second bricklayer replied, “I am building a wall.” The man walked up to the third bricklayer and asked, “What are you doing?” The third bricklayer replied, “I am helping to build to most beautiful museum the world has ever seen, and people will come for miles just to gaze upon its beauty.”

In your opinion, which of those bricklayers probably had the greatest satisfaction with his work? Which of those bricklayers would you want as your co-worker or your employee? Which of those bricklayers would you want to be? All three bricklayers were doing the exact same thing, working on the exact same project. The only difference was their attitude.

Research on employee engagement tells us that only about 29% of employees are actively engaged, with a positive attitude and strong commitment toward their job. So if 50 salespeople are on the same team, we can estimate that only 15 team members are actively doing the best job they can. Another 8 people are miserable and quietly grumbling to anyone who will listen. And the remaining 27 people – more than half the team – are simply there to collect their paychecks and go home for the day.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote,”If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Whatever your job might be, may you find satisfaction in doing it well!


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Series on Meaningfulness at Work: Motivating Employees

Most people think that the key to employee motivation is giving performance-based raises. People will work harder for an uptick in their monthly paycheck. But this common motivation tactic doesn’t actually do much, according to a Harvard Business Review article that detailed the findings of an analysis of 120 years of previous research. They found little correlation between pay and job satisfaction. One analysis cited found that incentives targeting extrinsic motivations actually had a negative impact on employees’ intrinsic motivation – and this was particularly true where job tasks are interesting rather than boring. More money does not equal more motivation.

Intrinsic motivators are the keys to success and improved engagement in the workplace. So here are a few simple ways to motivate your employees when raises and rewards fail:

Create a Culture of Respect – Studies have quantified the positive impact an atmosphere of consideration and respect has on stimulating creative output. Nothing saps energy or creativity like dreading having to work with someone who’s dismissive, short-tempered, or just plain mean. We’re all adults, and sometimes difficult conversations must be held. But that’s not license to treat people badly. Think of all the mental health days you’ll save because none of your employees have those days where they just can’t bear going into the office and having to deal with so-and-so.

Give People Their Time Away – Having said that, your employees don’t exist solely in the agency environment. They’re people with lives outside of work. An important way to treat them with kindness and respect is to show them that their work-life balance matters to you. Keep an eye out for employees who never take their vacation time. Insist that they do so. Carrying our work on our phones has its advantages, but it keeps us tethered to the office as well. Enforce stricter boundaries between work and personal time. Do your employees really need to reply to emails sent at 10 p.m.? What’s the underlying lapse that resulted in a 10 p.m. email anyway? Address that instead of expecting employees to be on call 24/7.

Mentor Them – Two years from now, few employees will want to keep doing the exact same work they’re doing now. Motivate employees by providing them unambiguous paths to grow professionally. Theoretical potential won’t do. This means constructive feedback on current work, as well as consistent opportunities to take on new tasks and projects. In addition, set aside budget to pay for employees to attend formal training and conferences, both online and in-person. Always promote from within wherever possible. If it’s not possible, that’s a big red flag that your staff isn’t getting the mentoring and growth opportunities they need. You need them to grow so your agency can continue to service ever higher quality clients, instead of having to react to high employee churn because they leave to find their opportunities elsewhere.

Leadership Matters – Implementing these motivation strategies requires a compatible agency culture. And culture starts with the agency leadership. According to a recent Gallup study measuring the engagement of 27 million employees all over the world, managers account for 70% of the variation of employee engagement. Clearly, no single factor determines the level of employees’ motivation more than their managers. Everyone reports to someone. Don’t expect your leadership team to be the employee-motivating managers you need them to be if you’re not providing the same.

Source: Jami Oetting,

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Series on Meaningfulness at Work: Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to behaviour that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behaviour arises from within the individual because it is intrinsically rewarding. This contrasts with extrinsic motivation, which involves engaging in a behaviour in order to earn external rewards or avoid punishments. Of course, that isn’t to say that intrinsically motivated behaviour are without their own rewards. Instead, these rewards involve creating positive emotions within the individual. Activities can generate such feelings when they give people a sense of meaning (like participating in volunteer or church events), a sense of progress (seeing that your work is accomplishing something positive), or competence (learning something new or becoming more skilled at a task).


“A person’s intrinsic enjoyment of an activity provides sufficient justification for their behaviour,” explains author Richard A Griggs in his text Psychology: A Concise Introduction. “With the addition of extrinsic reinforcement, the person may perceive the task as over justified and then attempt to understand their true motivation (extrinsic versus intrinsic) for engaging in the activity.”

In work settings, productivity can be increased by using extrinsic rewards such as bonuses, but the actual quality of the work performed is influenced by intrinsic factors. If you are doing something that you find rewarding, interesting, and challenging, you are more likely to come up with novel ideas and creative solutions. Malone and Lepper (1987) define activities as intrinsically motivating if “people engage in it for its own sake, rather than in order to receive some external reward or avoid some external punishment. We use the words fun, interesting, captivating, enjoyable, and intrinsically motivating all more or less interchangeably to describe such activities.”

The factors that they identify as increasing intrinsic motivation are:

Challenge: People are more motivated when they pursue goals that have personal meaning, that relate to their self-esteem when performance feedback is available, and when attaining the goal is possible but not necessarily certain.

Curiosity: Internal motivation is increased when something in the physical environment grabs the individual’s attention (sensory curiosity) and when something about the activity stimulates the person to want to learn more (cognitive curiosity).

Control: People want control over themselves and their environments and want to determine what they pursue.

Cooperation and Competition: Intrinsic motivation can be increased in situations where people gain satisfaction from helping others and in cases where they are able to compare their own performance favorably to that of others.

Recognition: People enjoy having their accomplishment recognized by others, which can increase internal motivation.

Experts have noted that offering unnecessary rewards can have unexpected costs. While we like to think that offering a reward will improve a person’s motivation, interest, and performance, this isn’t always the case. For example, when children are rewarded for playing with toys that they already enjoy playing with, their motivation and enjoyment of those toys actually decreases.

It is important to note, however, that a number of factors can influence whether intrinsic motivation is increased or decreased by external rewards. Salience or how significant the event itself is often plays a critical role.



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Series on Meaningfulness at Work vs. Meaninglessness

We have been reading about how we need to create more Meaningfulness at Work. There is an MIT research study which talks of the 7 Deadly Sins an organization can commit to create an atmosphere of Meaninglessness at Work.

Meaninglessness: The Seven Deadly Sins

One – Disconnect people from their values. Although individuals did not talk much about value congruence as a promoter of meaningfulness, they often talked about a disconnect between their own values and those of their employer or work group as the major cause of a sense of futility and meaninglessness. This issue was raised most frequently as a source of meaninglessness in work. A recurring theme was the tension between an organizational focus on the bottom line and the individual’s focus on the quality or professionalism of work. Nurses spoke despairingly of being forced to send patients home before they were ready in order to free up bed space.

Two – Take your employees for granted. Lack of recognition for hard work by organizational leaders was frequently cited as invoking a feeling of pointlessness. Academics talked about department heads who didn’t acknowledge their research or teaching successes; sales assistants and priests talked of bosses who did not thank them for taking on additional work.

Three – Give people pointless work to do. We found that individuals had a strong sense of what their job should involve and how they should be spending their time, and that a feeling of meaninglessness arose when they were required to perform tasks that did not fit that sense. Nurses, academics, artists, and clergy all cited bureaucratic tasks and form filling not directly related to their core purpose as a source of futility and pointlessness.

Four – Treat people unfairly. Unfairness and injustice can make work feel meaningless. Forms of unfairness ranged from distributive injustices, such as one stonemason who was told he could not have a pay raise for several years due to a shortage of money but saw his colleague being given a raise, to freelance musicians being asked to write a film score without payment. Procedural injustices included bullying and lack of opportunities for career progression.

Five – Override people’s better judgment. Quite often, a sense of meaninglessness was connected with a feeling of disempowerment or disenfranchisement over how work was done. One nurse, for example, described how a senior colleague required her to perform a medical intervention that was not procedurally correct, and how she felt obliged to complete this even against her better judgment. Lawyers talked of being forced to cut corners to finish cases quickly.

Six – Disconnect people from supportive relationships. Feelings of isolation or marginalization at work were linked with meaninglessness. This could occur through deliberate ostracism on the part of managers, or just through feeling disconnected from coworkers and teams. Entrepreneurs talked about their sense of loneliness and meaninglessness during the startup phase of their business, and the growing sense of meaningfulness that arose as the business developed and involved more people with whom they could share the successes.

Seven – Put people at risk of physical or emotional harm. Many jobs entail physical or emotional risks, and those taking on this kind of work generally appreciate and understand the choices they have made. However, unnecessary exposure to risk was associated with lost meaningfulness. Nurses cited feelings of vulnerability when left alone with aggressive patients and soldiers described exposure to extreme weather conditions without the appropriate gear.


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Series on Meaningfulness at Work – What does it entail?

There are many studies that have been conducted on what entails meaningfulness at work. Researches from MIT undertook a study that revealed five unexpected features of meaningful work; in these, we find clues that might explain the fragile and intangible nature of meaningfulness.

1. Self-Transcendent- Individuals tended to experience their work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves. In this way, meaningful work is self-transcendent. People did not just talk about themselves when they talked about meaningful work; they talked about the impact or relevance their work had for other individuals, groups, or the wider environment. For example, a garbage collector explained how he found his work meaningful at the “tipping point” at the end of the day when refuse was sent to recycling. This was the time he could see how his work contributed to creating a clean environment for his grandchildren and for future generations.

2. Poignant- The experience of meaningful work can be poignant rather than purely euphoric. People often found their work to be full of meaning at moments associated with mixed, uncomfortable, or even painful thoughts and feelings, not just a sense of unalloyed joy and happiness. People often cried in our interviews when they talked about the times when they found their work meaningful. Our research suggests that, contrary to what we may have thought, meaningfulness is not always a positive experience. In fact, those moments when people found their work meaningful tended to be far richer and more challenging than times when they felt simply motivated, engaged, or happy. The most vivid examples of this came from nurses who described moments of profound meaningfulness when they were able to use their professional skills and knowledge to ease the passing of patients at the end of their lives.

3. Episodic- A sense of meaningfulness arose in an episodic rather than a sustained way. It seemed that no one could find their work consistently meaningful, but rather that an awareness that work was meaningful arose at peak times that were generative of strong experiences. For example, a university professor talked of the euphoric experience of feeling “like a rock star” at the end of a successful lecture. Clearly, sentiments such as these are not sustainable over the course of even one single working day, let alone a longer period, but rather come and go over one’s working life, perhaps rarely arising. Nevertheless, these peak experiences have a profound effect on individuals, are highly memorable, and become part of their life narratives.

4. Reflective- In the instances cited above, it was often only when we asked the interviewees to recount a time when they found their work meaningful that they developed a conscious awareness of the significance of these experiences. Meaningfulness was rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people were able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning. Garbage collectors explained how they were able to find their work meaningful when they finished cleaning a street and stopped to look back at their work. In doing this, they reflected on how the tangible work of street sweeping contributed to the cleanliness of the environment as a whole. You are unlikely to witness someone talking about how meaningful they find their job during their working day. For most of the people we spoke to, the discussions we had about meaningful work were the first time they had ever talked about these experiences.

5. Personal- Other feelings about work, such as engagement or satisfaction, tend to be just that: feelings about work. Work that is meaningful, on the other hand, is often understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences. We found that managers and even organizations actually mattered relatively little at these times. One musician described his profound sense of meaningfulness when his father attended a performance of his for the first time and finally came to appreciate and understand the musician’s work. The customary dinner held to mark the end of a soldier’s service became imbued with meaning for one soldier because it was shared with family members who were there to hear her army stories.


Categorized as Media