Lockdown & The Search For Meaningful Work

Recent research in the UK appears to show that “meaningful” work is going to become more important post-coronavirus. This research chimes with my own experience as a coach, which strongly suggests to me that many people are taking the opportunity provided by lockdown to consider the contribution that work makes to their lives and the lives of others.

The research found that many people have taken the opportunity of lockdown to re-evaluate their work-life balance, to question whether they have made the right career choices and to reconsider what work means to them.

These findings seem to be completely aligned with earlier, smaller scale research, undertaken by Professor Catherine Bailey, of the University of Sussex and Adrian Madden, of the University of Greenwich in 2016 .

They found that our sense of the “meaningfulness” of our work is intensely personal and individual. The work we believe to have meaning seems to arise from personal reflection and to be connected with the contribution it makes to society. It may be associated with fulfilled potential and our finding the work creative and absorbing. It doesn’t, however, necessarily arise from a positive or happy experience: people find meaning in their work during times of sadness, such as when helping someone through a bereavement, an all too common experience today.

I am not surprised to find that a period of lockdown should have encouraged many people to considerable personal introspection.

The coronavirus crisis, the research in 2020 finds, has drawn many people to think more about the role work plays in their lives, including its usefulness to society and its importance to the economy. The opportunity for extended reflection on these concerns is perhaps rarely given to an entire generation – but 2020 has provided it in spades.

Whether the re-evaluations of career direction will result in real change only time will tell but the scope and radical nature of people’s thinking is notable. The extended lockdown seems to have created a “COVID 19 life crisis” for many British people with nearly half (41 per cent) considering quitting their jobs for more fulfilling work when the pandemic is over. Inspired by the many heroic efforts shown by individuals during the crisis, one in five of those surveyed are looking for a career change, and have set their sights on joining the medical front line.

Evidence about how employers will respond to the individual musings of their staff after lockdown ends is not yet available. However, the related debate about how the economy “builds back” is growing. The growth in the public’s perception of the need to build back more sustainably could well become associated with employer’s concerns about staff engagement, productivity and job satisfaction. One thing is certain: employee’s evaluation of the value and the meaning of their work can have a significant impact on their productivity and wellbeing.

As the “build back better” movement gains pace and the case for redeveloping the British economy on a foundation of green sustainability grows, it is not surprising to find that recent research discovered that one in five people are predicting an end to commuting five days a week and the idea that you must be seen at your desk to be working (24 per cent).

The 2020 research, commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon, surveyed 2,000 working Brits and also revealed that the COVID 19 pandemic has prompted many to question the traditional office-based 9-5 culture and the reality of their work-life balance. It found that a third (34 per cent) of those surveyed experienced and were moved to combat a feeling of helplessness during the crisis (34 per cent) or a desire to be a more valuable member of the community (47 per cent), with 22 per cent labelling their current role as pointless.

As lockdown measures have forced working from home, nearly half of workers (48 per cent) plan to request some remote working once the restrictions on movement are reduced. If only a minority of these requests were to be agreed the impact upon office planning, travel to and from work patterns and family life would be considerable.


Sources:

https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/what-makes-work-meaningful-or-meaningless/#article-authors, accessed 10 May 2020. https://www.slatergordon.co.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2020/05/pride-and-pointless-workplaces-could-cause-nhs-staff-surge/, accessed 10 May 2020