Rokhaya Gueye hadn’t thought about switching careers until she was laid off from her role as a manager at a telecommunications company in 2019.
After 17 years with the same organization, she was tempted to re-enter the corporate world in a similar position. She was headhunted for a marketing and communications leadership role shortly after her layoff. But six months into her new job, in the middle of the pandemic, Ms. Gueye resigned to pursue her passion for construction.
“You’re literally building things, where at the end of the day, you see what you’ve done,” she says. “It’s tangible. It’s right there in real-time. Whereas in the office, you have meetings. It’s completely different.”
Ms. Gueye had studied construction engineering in the late 1990s, but after graduation, her career led her to a corporate job.
Meanwhile, she found opportunities to stoke her interest in the trades. She volunteered with Habitat For Humanity and was part of a crew building playgrounds for the non-profit Million Dollar Smiles.
“Once you have [construction] skills, nobody can take it away,” Ms. Gueye says. “You can build homes or renovate.”
Finding meaningful work doesn’t always require a complete career pivot like Ms. Gueye’s. But recognizing that she wanted her work to be hands-on, with tangible outcomes and transferable skills, is a practice that any employee can undergo to make their next job more meaningful.
According to Robert Hosking, senior regional director of Robert Half Canada, a staffing firm, employees have been thinking more about how their jobs can be meaningful since the pandemic.
A recent Robert Half LinkedIn poll of 470 Canadian professionals asked participants what part of their job brought them the most joy. The top response was “interesting, meaningful work” at 37 per cent of respondents, followed by 34 per cent selecting “flexible work options.”
“Something we’re hearing with people that have made a decision to leave their current job and look for something else is [to find] more meaningful and interesting work,” Mr. Hosking says.
But what counts as meaningful or interesting work can differ.
“Somebody may decide, ‘I’d like to be in a role where I’m giving back or helping others. And in others, it may be that they’re really bored and thinking, ‘I’m doing the same thing over and over again. I need something that actually gets me fired up’,” Mr. Hosking says.
As a first step, Alysha Chin, a career coach based in Toronto, encourages her clients to assess their current position.
“Pay attention to how you’re feeling while you’re doing certain tasks,” she says. “If there is something that you’re absolutely dreading, what about it are you dreading? What do you dread doing a little bit less, or feel calm about doing?”
A small pivot or change in employer, while maintaining the same job role, might be what it takes for someone to find their work more fulfilling.
Ms. Chin gives the example of a lawyer that moved from a firm to working at a non-profit organization.
For others, a deeper dive into personal skills and interests might be required to discover a more meaningful pathway.
For example, doing something you’re good at can bring more fulfilment to your work. If you’re having difficulty determining that on your own, Ms. Chin suggests asking a colleague, mentor or close friend to help.
“The skills or strengths that come very naturally don’t necessarily feel like skills to us, but for other people, it’s impressive,” she says.
Someone that prefers heads-down tasks might enjoy a profession like data analysis. If you feel satisfied doing work with a tangible outcome or point of completion, look for project-oriented roles. A career coach or recruiter can help you to connect the dots, or try an online resource like the Government of Canada’s Job Bank career quizzes.
For some, an employer that’s better aligned with their values helps them find more meaning in their work. Mr. Hosking says that organizations are becoming more proactive about showcasing company values in job postings and websites.
“The kind of culture, the giveback programs, the community involvement, the commitment to diversity and inclusion, the focus on people first, these are the things that, as a prospective employee, you’re looking for,” Mr. Hosking says. “We hear from individuals, ‘I want to know that the company I’m working for is committed to the environment. What are they doing to reduce their carbon footprint or to give back that way?’”
Mr. Hosking notes that most jobs won’t always feel meaningful. “I don’t know that there’s a job out there that 100 per cent is going to feel as though you’re constantly having an impact,” he says. “There’s probably 25 per cent of every job that isn’t your favourite part of it, but it needs to be done.”
Mr. Hosking also recommends meaningful job-hunters use contract roles to test out new roles or organizations. “It’s an assessment opportunity for the individual to say, ‘I really liked this. I liked the company’,” he says.
Alternatively, a short-term placement can also be advantageous if that role or employer isn’t right for them.
In some cases, workers may not have to switch jobs or employers to find more meaning in their roles. A conversation with your current manager could lead to small changes that make you feel more fulfilled in your present job.
“Maybe there are some committees or other things going on in the business that they can help you to be a part of,” Mr. Hosking says. “That might layer in some of those things that help you feel more fulfilled.”