Putting the meaning into your career

It's only natural to want to enjoy your work and feel that what you do counts for something. But in today's fast-paced world, employees want more than job security and a steady income – they want "meaning". What this means exactly is difficult to say but one thing's for sure, simply turning up to the office everyday and hitting your targets isn't enough. People want to feel challenged. But it's even more than that; they want to feel they are making a difference, that they are touching others and ultimately that they are being fulfilled.

So says a recent report from the UK's Work Foundation that states that while looking for meaning in our careers would have been laughable a few decades ago, our new-found wealth and general self-obsession has made it part of parcel of the modern working world.

And this is where it gets tricky. Because we can't all be doctors saving lives, scientists making groundbreaking discoveries that will be documented for eternity, or teachers moulding young minds. Even journalists can find "meaning" by writing great articles that engage their readers. However, for those working in well-paid financial, legal and administrative positions, feeling they are contributing to society's greater good may be harder to quantify. And it's even harder for a company to find that for you.

But that's where you have to rely on yourself. You don't need to go off and raise millions for charity to touch those around you. Thinking outside your own job description and deciding how you can benefit your team's performance and company's growth can have an enormous impact.

Just by being professional at what you do can have meaning. An employee who finishes his projects on time has a cheery persona and says thank you when his colleagues help out can inspire. By the same token, an energised boss who sets an example others want to follow could be touching dozens, hundreds or even thousands of lives.

And sometimes it's the little things that really have an impact. A cleaner may not think he is making a difference while he mops the ladies' toilets but there is nothing more pleasant than stepping into a clean, hygienic bathroom. And the receptionist who smiles every time someone walks into a company's headquarters could be offering respite to an interviewee, terrified about stepping into such a corporate environment.

One colleague I work with puts meaning into his work simply by being compassionate and good at what he does. He has a wealth of experience but rather than preach to those with a lesser CV, he offers thoughtful advice while diligently getting on with his own job.

But for those who really want to make a difference and quit their high-powered job for a more worthwhile profession, they may discover finding fulfillment comes at a hefty price – a massive reduction in salary.