3 Ways to Approach Meaningful Work
Although Labor Day in the U.S. falls on the first Monday in September, in many other countries around the world, it’s celebrated on May 1. No matter where it’s celebrated, the holiday recognizes the historic achievements of the labor movement, which fought to improve work conditions in factories, railroads, mills, mines and beyond.
When Labor Day was first introduced in the late 19th Century, wages were low, and employees, including children, were often required to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the labor movement, we now have the 40-hour work week, benefits, paid time off, sick leave and safe working conditions.
Today, we know that strong employment opportunities and healthy wages have a singular ability to transform the lives of individuals, their families and communities at large. They can boost local economies, create safer neighborhoods, increase civic engagement and foster more prosperous societies. With many more basic needs being met in workplaces than in times past, today’s employees are now exploring more about the meaning and purpose that lies in their work.
So, if you had to define “meaningful work,” what are some of the characteristics you might think of? Does meaningful work exist when employees feel valued and have ample opportunity to thrive in their careers? When they feel connected to their coworkers, clients and customers? Is work meaningful when the service or product is ultimately contributing to social good? Or when the employer prioritizes social and environmental responsibility in philanthropic efforts?
Any one of these aspects – or all of them, in tandem – might make an individual’s work feel meaningful. According to Points of Light’s research on Civic Engagement in the United States, two-thirds of Americans believe companies should be involved in social issues. Around 20% of respondents reported applying for a job with a company or organization specifically because of its social responsibility stance.
Employers have an immense amount of power when it comes to making work more meaningful for their employees. Depending on the resources a company has, they may have the opportunity to establish a Corporate Social Responsibility team and/or an Employee Volunteer Program.
Companies might consider sponsoring or hosting volunteer events or food and clothing drives throughout the year. An increasingly sought-out benefit for employees is paid volunteer time off (VTO), which empowers employees to get more involved in contributing their time and talent – without the risk of losing income.
Companies should, at the very least, examine their workplace culture to ensure that they’re doing everything they can to create a safer, more inclusive environment. Consider hosting “lunch and learns” to bring in experts on social justice or environmental issues – whether in-person, virtually or simply through a TED Talk – and welcoming dialogue among employees. When people understand an issue and are educated about it, they can make more informed decisions about how to get involved.
“Pressure and expectation for companies to be socially responsible has never been higher. Points of Light’s research offers some insights into those expectations and can help business leaders identify where to start as they align employee engagement and retention with CSR and talent development programs.”
— Katie Stearns, chief global corporate solutions officer at Points of Light
Establishing and reinforcing a zero-tolerance policy in regard to discrimination is also critical. Helping employees feel welcome to share any concerns is also important, as companies may unconsciously silence their workforce if they don’t explicitly invite speaking up and out about issues in the workplace.
Committing to being more socially responsible starts with taking care of your workforce. And employers may find that the more power they put behind these efforts, the more talent they can attract and retain. In fact, Points of Light’s research shows that 86% of Millennials – the largest generation currently in the United States workforce – consider it a major priority to work for a company that is socially responsible and ethical. And 41% of Gen Z have considered applying for or taking a job with a company specifically because they believe it is committed to being socially responsible.
While employers are ultimately responsible for establishing inclusive, supportive environments and taking care of their workforces, employees have both the responsibility and the opportunity to be the change they wish to see in their workplaces. This means that even in circumstances where employers are still working to ramp up civic engagement opportunities, employees themselves have the ability to advocate for social good efforts.
If you’re an employee looking to ramp up your levels of engagement, first recognize that doing good comes in many forms. Yes, an employer-sponsored volunteer program is ideal, but if you don’t have this resource, you can explore the Points of Light Civic Circle® to dive into nine different vehicles of social impact – including donating, listening and learning, using your purchase power for good and more.
You might also consider ways you can utilize your professional skillset for good during your free time – known as skills-based volunteering. This can include things like helping a nonprofit with budgeting or accounting, helping recruit more volunteers to a cause through social media marketing, teaching language or literacy through tutoring children or adults, or helping with the upkeep of a shelter through plumbing, HVAC or IT services.
Within your workplace, you might consider establishing an annual corporate volunteer event once a month or a few times a year. Keep in mind that to do this, management buy-in will be essential. You’ll need to have support from your higher-ups to form a volunteer team, find or create an event, and get the word out to the workforce.
Finally, recognize how you can do good by being an ally for any underrepresented groups in your place of employment. This might involve recommending a colleague from a minority group to lead a project. It could be ensuring that women and people of color are represented in speaking engagements – like panels and conferences. It might mean reporting discrimination to your Human Resources department. Or it could simply look like thoughtfully listening to an underrepresented coworker share their story or experience.
“We know that measuring and reporting on your CSR program is key – it’s how you make an internal business case and tell your story. Beyond measuring volunteers, hours, and community outcomes, don’t forget the other types of impact you might measure, such as changes to employee skills or engagement.”
— Katie Stearns, chief global corporate solutions officer at Points of Light
If you’re currently seeking employment, you have a unique opportunity to vet potential employers and discover what they’re doing to further social good. If you’re currently employed and looking to make a career move, or you otherwise have the luxury of time, consider seeking out employers that align with your top values.
Start by clarifying your priorities and which cause areas you’d most like to focus on. (The Personal Action Plan in the back of the Civic Life Today “Work” issue can help get your wheels turning!) Keep in mind that no one employer is able to address every social issue, so having your top cause areas at the forefront of your mind can help you better narrow your search.
You can check out resources to determine how you’d like to show up for social good in your current or future place of employment. Bea Boccalandro’s book, “Do Good at Work” can help you flesh out tangible ideas for making meaningful contributions to others or a societal cause – an effort she deemed “job purposing.”
The B Corp movement was established to define social, environmental and governance best practices for businesses – and to make businesses that meet these standards known with a B Corp certification. You can search the B Corp database to find a company to buy from, work with or learn more about.
You can also check out The Civic 50, a Points of Light initiative recognizing the 50 most community-minded companies in the nation each year, as determined by an annual survey administered by True Impact.Points of Light’s research shows that 86% of Millennials – the largest generation currently in the United States workforce – consider it a major priority to work for a company that is socially responsible and ethical.