Study after study suggests that there is one thing people value in their careers more than anything else: meaning.
A 2018 BetterUp study found that the average American worker was willing to forego 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that was always meaningful. PwC’s recent Workforce of the Future survey found that 88% of them want to work for a company whose values reflect their own. Another 2018 survey found that nearly 80% of the respondents would rather have a boss who cared about them finding meaning and success in work than receive a 20% pay increase. And research is finding that purpose is becoming more and more important to workers as younger generations enter the workforce.
But this desire for meaning isn’t just an interesting fact of B2B research or a scientific study. It’s something we feel — and it’s bubbling up in our popular culture.
In a recent New York Times article, “Wealthy, Successful and Miserable,” that went viral on social media, Harvard M.B.A grad and award-winning journalist Charles Duhigg reports that many of his friends are miserable, despite their enviable careers and salaries. Why? They’re searching for purpose that isn’t present in their 9 to 5. And they’re struggling with the idea that their work week isn’t doing anything for the greater good.
A study published in the Journal of Mental Health found that meaningful work can decrease depression, anxiety and stress while facilitating personal growth. It’s really no wonder so many of us seek it out. But despite popular belief, you don’t need to work at a non-profit or mission-based entrepreneurial venture to feel meaning in your day-to-day life.
Increasingly, businesses are making corporate responsibility central to their business strategies, implementing cultures and systems that that make the work day feel meaningful — whether it’s fostering an inclusive culture that employees want to proliferate, or focusing in on other forms of corporate responsibility. One of the most impactful ways to make work feel meaningful is working for a company that prioritizes corporate responsibility through volunteerism. Volunteering is hands-on and often results in visible impact — both on your local community and on your personal and career growth.
Volunteerism can aid in your career growth by:
-Introducing you to new people. Volunteering offers an avenue to have genuine, engaging conversation with people who have similar passions. You are likely to meet people both within and without your organization from a variety of backgrounds, allowing you to both develop your network and develop your understanding of the world around you.
-Exposing you to new problems. While volunteering, you will likely be asked to work towards solutions to problems you would not encounter in your day to day. This flexes your problem-solving abilities, while requiring you to apply your skills in a new and exciting way.
-Helping you develop and refine new skills. The new problems you are required to solve while volunteering may also require new skills. Learning something new in a problem solving context versus in an online course makes it even easier to utilize later — whether on a resume or in a particular challenge you encounter in your career.
IBM’s corporate social responsibility programs are a strong example of workplace volunteerism gone right. This series of innovative programs allows IBM employees to focus on challenges facing communities around the world — from aiding STEM education to creating technology in response to natural disasters.
One of the organization’s more intensive programs, the Corporate Service Corps (CSC), has activated over 4,000 participants from 62 different countries on over 1,400 projects. CSC teams come together virtually to learn about the communities and the problems they’ll address before spending four weeks on the ground working with local organizations and other relevant local stakeholders.
Anshu Uppal was part of a CSC team in South Africa who worked with the Mathematics and Computational Science Department at the University of Limpopo. They implemented speech to text and text to speech services that made the university’s information services more inclusive for students, and the community as a whole.
However, making an impact also impacted Uppal and how she connects with her work.
“By participating in CSC, I undertook a challenge with the intent of finding an innovative solution for the sake of IBM and larger community as a whole. In the process, I got an opportunity to understand the people I worked with — their strengths, their differences, how they performed, and their values,” she said. “The experience helped me broaden my capabilities and allowed me an opportunity to reconcile personal experiences… [it] helped me gain a new understanding and perspective.”
Her teammate, Kate Browery, also felt that the CSC experience completely changed how she experiences her every day in her career.
"IBM’s CSC program is unparalleled, and a huge reason that I remain a True Blue employee. It delivered both immediate and long-lasting effects professionally. I returned a better-rounded leader, who actively worked through cultural awareness,” she said. “I don’t know of any program at any company that puts such emphasis on cultivating its employees.”
Volunteer opportunities at IBM are also inclusive of those who are not able to travel. IBM Volunteers is an initiative that supports the organization’s employees’ and retirees’ volunteer efforts. Since 2003, the program has recorded over 21 million hours of service in 92 countries. The program helps IBMers apply their skills to their communities by offering free resources to plan and conduct a wide range of volunteer activities. It also connects IBMers with other service-minded colleagues and helps them find opportunities with local organizations.
Finding work that brings you purpose is increasingly important in today’s society for living a happy and healthy life. No one needs to be stuck feeling “successful and miserable.” Working at a company with a dedication to corporate responsibility and an impactful volunteer program can give your work week a new sense of meaning, while also providing you with a new way to develop your personal and professional skills.
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