How to make work more meaningful by finding more ways to make a difference

meaningful work - make a difference


Want a simple way to open up a bucketload o’ possibilities for making work more meaningful? Shift your perspective from “what difference does my work make,” to “what difference can I make while I’m at work?”

The second question includes the first, but expands your perspective to encompass much more of the real impact you have to potential to make.

You can start by looking back at my most recent post in this series on how to experience more meaning in you your work: Make your work meaningful: Find the difference you’re already making. Go through each of the suggestions for identifying the impact you’re already having and ask, “OK, what else? How could I make more of the difference I’m already making? And what other difference could I make? ”

Another way to think about it is looking at various areas and asking, “How can I help?” For example:

  • How can I help my co-workers?
  • How can I help the customer/client/end-user?
  • How can I help our partners?
  • How can I help the organization?
  • What greater-good effort can I initiate or support? (OK, that doesn’t start with “how can I help,” but you get the idea.)

Over time, asking what difference you can make while you’re at work can become a habitual question. Until then, you’ll find some ideas below to help you start exploring.

Helping your co-workers

At an individual level, start asking the simple question, “Whose life can I make better with my work, and how?”

You could make it a goal to find ways to do that every day. You might even decide that from a meaning perspective the content of your job is secondary, and that your real role is to make people’s lives better in whatever way you can.

The ways you can make your co-workers lives better are endless. Some are directly the result of the work you do, others have nothing to do with your specific role.

Let’s start off with the role-specific exploration. How can the job you do (and how you do it) make life better for your co-workers?

Take a look at the individual people/roles that your work touches directly. This might be downstream (people who use or benefit from the work you do), upstream (people whose work is input for your work), or “sidestream,” (people not directly in your work flow who you still interact with in your job). Make a list.

Once you have the list, start asking questions. Broadly put, you can think of finding a difference to make as either adding a positive or eliminating a negative.

Here is a brief, far-from-exhaustive list of questions to get you started.

Adding positives

  • Can I make this person’s job easier?
  • Can I make this person’s job more efficient effective?
  • Can I help this person do their job more quickly?
  • Can how I do my work solve any problems this person has in their work?
  • How can how I interact with this person make their life better? (e.g., positive, supportive, communicative, etc.)

Removing negatives

  • Does my work present any obstacles for them (e.g., a bottleneck, lack of communication, etc.)? What can I do to remove those?
  • Does how I interact with them create frustration or friction? What can I change about that?
  • What problems do they have? Can I help solve any of them?
  • How can I make this person’s work less frustrating?

How you show up

Think of the most positive, uplifting person you have ever worked with. Now think of the most negative, pain-in-the-ass person you have worked with. What impact did each of those people had on your everyday experience of work?

There’s an enormous opportunity to make a difference in your work simply by how you show up. Are you positive? Are you supportive? Do you acknowledge people’s work? Are you free with your sincere compliments?

How you show up and the impact that has on the people around you is one of the biggest areas of potential impact because a) it’s happening the entire time you’re at work and, b) it’s one of the few things you have complete control over.

Helping people outside your organization

Beyond your co-workers, you can look outside the organization for how you make an impact. Two common constituencies here are customers/clients and business partners.

The exploration process is the same as for your co-workers. How can you make things better for them or remove something that’s not-so-hot?

Helping the organization

Keep your eyes open for opportunities to help the organization move towards its goals. These might be directly the result of your work, or it could be coming up with ideas the organization can implement to, for example:

  • Make money
  • Save money
  • Serve the customer better
  • Do things more efficiently
  • Foster a positive and productive culture

Again, the list is practically endless. Some things you might implement yourself. Other things you might be a catalyst for.

Supporting greater-good efforts

Keep your eyes open for opportunities to either instigate or support projects and programs that make a difference beyond the organization. For example:

  • Get involved in your organizations volunteer program, if it has one.
  • If it doesn’t have one, be a catalyst for creating one.
  • Start a sustainability program.
  • Organize a food drive.
  • Get your co-workers to bring surplus food from their gardens and deliver it to homeless shelters, food banks, etc.

Ultimately, you can create an opportunity to feel more meaning in your work by seeing your job less as a monolithic source of meaning (that comes from the end difference you make) and more as a playing field where you’ll find many different opportunities to have a positive impact.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

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One comment

  • When working on a team, it is important to be sensitive of what others think of everyone. Teamwork is a must!