RecWorks – What makes meaningful work?

Work is a defining, all-consuming part of our lives. But now more than ever, the speed at which the nature of work is changing is having an extraordinary impact on lives everywhere. With lack of employment opportunities for graduates entering the jobs market, here has been much debate about what it really takes to craft a career that is likely to stand the test of time, but more and more I’m reading stuff that shapes my thinking on the future of work and what makes work meaningful, and with a son about to graduate and a daughter just 18 months away from university, it’s thought provoking stuff.

In her new book, The Shift, academic Lynda Gratton offers some research led observations and identifies the forces that will shape work and careers:

  • Ever greater globalisation of innovation and talent;
  • The development of ever more sophisticated connective technologies;
  • Profound changes in demography and longevity;
  • Broad societal forces that will see trust in institutions decrease;
  • Families become ever more re-arranged;
  • The impact that growth in environmental consciousness will have on how we think about our own consumption patterns.

I’ve summarised below her thinking on how these forces combine and offer some insights about skills, networks and choices.

1. Don’t be fooled into walking into the future blindfolded – the more you know what’s in store, the better able you will be to meet the challenges and really capitalise on your options. So keep abreast of the forces that are shaping work and careers in your part of the world and think about how they will impact on you and those you care for. Making wise choices will in the end come from your capacity to understand – don’t rely on governments of big business to make the choices for you.

2. Learn to be virtualwe are entering a period of hyper technological advancements – if you thought iPhones, Skype and WhatsApp were ground breaking avatars, holographs and telepresence are all just around the corner. If you are a young ‘digital native’ you are already connected to this – but if you are over 30 the chances are you are already behind on your understanding. Work will become more global and that means that increasingly you will be working with people in a virtual way – its crucial that you learn to embrace these developments and don’t let yourself become obsolete through lack of technical savvy.

3. Search for the valuable skillsthink hard about the skill areas that are likely to be important in the future – for example sustainability, health and wellness, and design and social media are all likely to be areas where work will be created over the next decade. Also remember that jobs that involve working closely with people (chef, physiotherapist) are unlikely to move to another country.

4. Become a Master – don’t be fooled into spreading your talents too thinly. Being a ‘jack of all trades’ will mean you are competing with millions of others around the world who are similar. Separate yourself from the crowd by really learning to master a skill or talent that you can develop with real depth. Be prepared to put your time and effort into honing these skills and talents.

5. Be prepared to strike out on your ownthere will always be work with big companies – but increasingly the real fun will come from setting up your own company. We are entering the age of the ‘micro-entrepreneur’ with ever decreasing costs of technology will reduce the barriers to getting off the ground, and when talented people across the world will be connected and keen to work with each other.

6. Find your posseto create valuable skills and knowledge you will need to quickly reach out to others who can help and advise you. This small  ‘posse’ of like-minded and skilled people is a network that will be central to your really building speed and agility in your career. Don’t leave it too long to find and cultivate it. Many of the web-based communities identify themselves as ‘digital tribes’ are the future connected workplaces and workforce.

7. Build the Big Ideas Crowdthe future is about innovation, and sometimes your best, most innovative ideas will come as you talk and work with people who are geographically and time-zone disconnected, but it’s the development of crowdsourcing, leveraging mass collaboration that enabled by web 2.0 technologies to come to the fore that will be a crucial source of inspiration. Make sure that you don’t limit yourself to working only with those who are just like you and close enough to touch.

8. Lock in, but go beyond the family  – your career success will depend in part on your emotional well-being and resilience. In a world of ever shifting real and virtual relationships, it’s important that you invest in developing deep restorative relationships with your family – this is your ‘regenerative community’ and they are crucial to your well being and happiness – but also make the web enabled connections and investment as soon as you can and make an effort to continually maintain and build these relationships.

9. Have the courage to make the hard choicesyour working life will be shaped by the shifting patterns of longevity (you are likely to live considerably longer than your parents) and demography. So you need a strategy for the long term. You have three hard choices:

  • Build a career that enables you to work longer (into your late 60s or early 70s);
  • Be prepared to save a significant proportion of your income throughout your working life (the Chinese save around 40% of their income)
  • Consider ways to reduce your consumption and live more simply.

It does not matter which hard choice you make – but you are going to have to make at least one of them.

10. Become a producer rather than a simple consumer – And finally… the old deal at work:  ‘I work, to earn money, to buy stuff, that makes me happy’ is rapidly becoming obsolete. Engaging in meaningful work where you can rapidly learn will become a priority (although fair pay will always be important). So think hard about sharing and great experiences rather than simply building your working life around consuming.

Here at RecWorks we’ve been thinking about the above, and especially that formula for the traditional deal at work, which goes something like this:

I work… to earn money… which I use… to consume stuff… which makes me happy.

I suggest that this deal is not a sufficient description of what work can and should be. Instead I put forward the following knowledge-based and future-focused deal, which we think makes RecWorks different:

I work… to gain productive experiences… to improve my knowledge…that is the basis… of my happiness.

But this begs the question – what exactly is a meaningful productive experience, and how do you know when your work is meaningful? So here are the 10 questions we asked ourselves to establish whether our work at RecWorks is meaningful, based around knowledge, fulfilment and all the stuff we’ve gone on about above:

  • Do you use the majority of the knowledge you have on a daily basis?…because meaningful work provides an opportunity for you to keep your knowledge fresh by using it constantly.
  • Do you feel intellectually stretched in your work?…because meaningful work both uses the knowledge you have and pushes the boundaries of what you can become.
  • Are you able to learn something new at least once a week?…because meaningful work creates constant opportunity for learning.
  • In your view are your colleagues at work knowledgeable and do you learn from them constantly?…because meaningful work is also about the colleagues who come with it, and your learning and development comes primarily through learning from others: ‘The RecWorks Tribe’.
  • Are the tasks you do at work interesting and complex?…because at the heart of meaningful work are the day-to-day tasks that you do.
  • Do you get lots of feedback about how you are doing?…because meaningful work enables you to grow, and feedback from others is a crucial part of this.
  • Do you think that the work you do has a positive impact on the business?…because meaningful work enables you to make a clear link in your mind between the tasks you perform and the broader goals of the business.
  • Do you think that the work you do has a positive impact on society?…because meaningful work is made up of tasks that you believe do good and, as a consequence, make you feel good about yourself.
  • In your daily work, do you have the opportunity to reach out to develop networks with people very different from yourself?…because meaningful work creates opportunities for you to develop the ‘Big Ideas Crowd’ that is so crucial to developing your innovative and creative capacity.
  • Does your work give you time to really develop deep regenerative relationships with people inside and outside of your organisation?…because meaningful work creates time and space for you to develop emotionally.

So where are you on meaningful work?

Score 8-10 Through your active choices, or sheer luck, you are working in a meaningful way. Cherish the opportunities this provides and don’t compromise in the future.

Score 5-7
Some aspects of your work are meaningful. Take a closer look at those you have said no to and search for the underlying patterns. Is it possible to focus on developing these areas?

Score 1-4
Your job lacks meaning – you already know that! The question is – what are you going to do about it?

So there you have it, an inside perspective of what we think about in RecWorks when we’re not delivering outstanding recruitment services to candidates and clients. Take a look at our blogs, get in touch and join one of our communities – the LJC or GDC – come inside for a conversation where we can share knowledge and do some meaningful work together.


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