Only You Can Make Your Job Mean Something

Only You Can Make Your Job Mean Something

love your job It’s time to love your job.

No one could ever accuse Michael Scott, the hapless boss played by Steve Carell on the American version of The Office, of not trying hard enough or not loving his job. In a classic season-two episode, Michael introduces viewers to the Dundies. This is an annual awards show he invented to imbue employment at a mid-sized failing paper company with a greater sense of meaning. “An employee will go home,” Michael says, “and he’ll tell his neighbor, ‘Hey, did you get an award?’ And the neighbor will say, ‘No, man. I mean, I slave all day and nobody notices me.’ Next thing you know, employee smells something terrible coming from neighbor’s house. Neighbor’s hanged himself due to lack of recognition. So.”

Bosses can’t make you love your job.

It is unfortunate, then, that when a boss tries to create meaningfulness on the job for his or her employees, it does not seem to work very well. It may not work at all according to a forthcoming paper by researchers Catherine Bailey of the University of Sussex and Adrian Madden, of the University of Greenwich. Earlier this month in MIT Sloan Management Review, Bailey and Madden outlined the results of their interviews.  135 people employed in ten distinct job fields, which, they write, surprised them at nearly every turn.

They expected, for instance, that those they interviewed would talk about the inspiration they drew from working under particularly visionary leaders.  These are charismatic bosses who lead by example. They make sure to communicate the bigger picture to their underlings.

This is known in the organizational psychology literature as transformational leadership, and it stands in direct contrast with transactional leadership; the latter is the type of manager whose toolbox primarily consists of carrots and sticks. “We anticipated that the meaningfulness experienced by employees in relation to their work was clearly associated with managerial actions. Such as transformational leaders would have followers who found their work meaningful,” Bailey and Madden write. “Whereas transactional leaders would not.”

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