At Work & Theology 101

Wanted: A Meaningful Job

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If you’ve read anything about millennials in the past five years, you know they desire meaningful work. As described previously on this blog, this desire can be a significant source of anxiety as they hunt for jobs.

The truth is, it’s not only millennials who are searching for meaning in their work.

A Culture of Purpose-Hungry Workers

In a Harvard Business Review article, Bruce N. Pfau, the former VP of human resources and communications at the accounting firm KPMG, recounts this story:

…when we invited all of our employees to tell us about their higher purpose at work in an online initiative we called the “10,000 Stories Challenge,” many of our leaders predicted the initiative would appeal mostly to our “purpose-hungry” Millennial employees. Instead, we received more than 40,000 employee stories and participation rates across the generations were essentially the same.

Across age groups, all had a deeper longing for purpose, for meaning. But how did these individuals define a “meaningful job”? And what about Christians—how should we define meaningful work?

There are three perspectives on what makes work meaningful:

#1 Your Job Makes the World a Better Place

The higher we rank our jobs according to this criterion, typically the more satisfied we are with our work.

This is called “the personal perspective” on job satisfaction. According to this perspective, you are the one who determines the importance and meaning of your work.

Forbes writes annually about a survey of the “most meaningful jobs in America” and the rankings are likely based on this type of framework. Interestingly, in 2015, three very different jobs tied for first place: orthopedic surgeon, police chief, and youth minister.

#2 Your Salary Indicates How Meaningful Your Job Is

The second way our jobs are typically measured is by what is known as the “economic/market perspective.”

This perspective measures the importance of your job based on the size of your salary.

Culture puts a lot of emphasis on this perspective. Money is seen as a measure of success and status.

In a free-market economic system, your compensation is driven by the immediate value of your labor to the market at any given time. That’s why the importance of your work is driven by the market in this perspective.

#3 Your Job Is Meaningful to God

Genesis 2:15 says,

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

The work God calls Adam to do is important to God. It has intrinsic value in and of itself. This is also true for the work God calls each of us to do.

It is God, not you or the market, who determines the importance of your work.

Our callings are designed by God to make the world a better place. He designed them to bring more flourishing to his creation.

If you’re a follower of Christ and work in a so-called “secular” field, this should radically alter the way you view your job; the work of your hands, the job itself, has intrinsic value.

Sometimes it is difficult to see how what you do every day contributes to overall flourishing—yours and others’. This is why it’s helpful to connect faith and work to what we talk about at IFWE as the “economic way of thinking.”

The economic way of thinking helps us see the bigger picture of how our work adds to what others are already doing in their work, and how the sum of all this activity contributes to everyone’s flourishing.

IFWE’s Anne Bradley writes in her booklet, Be Fruitful & Multiply: Why Economics is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions,

The heart of human flourishing comes from the knowledge that we are made in the image of God, that we are here for a reason, and that every decision of our lives matters—big and small.

God has given each one of us a comparative advantage with which we should faithfully engage the world through our work to his glory, the service of our neighbor, and the advancement of his kingdom here and now.

Can you see your work through God’s eyes? Do you see how meaningful your job is to God? Embracing his perspective should put the work of every Christian, no matter what it is, at the top of the “most meaningful job” list.

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  • el

    HI Hugh! Thank you for this!

    You mentioned that salary is an indicator. How do you measure your potential (striving to get a better salary) and pursue it without seeming greedy?

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