Reducing Work Stress by Adding Meaning

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • Imagine two people doing similar jobs. Perhaps they are cleaners in a hospital or an office? Why does one find their work dull, stressful and pointless while the other finds it satisfying and meaningful? Well, studies have been conducted in environments and with people exactly as I’ve mentioned. The difference between these two people comes down to how they think about the job and the little extras the happier types put in to add meaning.


    I’ve worked in a variety of settings, all of which required different occupations to keep the place going. In my last job, for example, their were cleaners, ground staff, cooks, academics, electricians, plumbers, librarians and so on. In hospital settings I noticed big differences in the way some of the cleaning staff were viewed as part of the ward team, or not.

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    Extending the defined boundaries of a job can make a big difference as to how we view one another. A cleaner in a hospital who also takes a little time to chat to patients as he or she is working tends to view their work as more meaningful than one who works in a bubble. They also get feedback from many more people and the old adage 'one good turn' can spread so that people in other occupations feel less precious or guarded about their role. There was a time when work role was very tightly defined but things, some things at least, have eased up a little. Back in the late 1970s I remember the frustration of a colleague who wanted a light bulb changing. She had to write a work requisition for someone to bring a ladder and another for an electrician to change the bulb. The person with the ladder wasn’t allowed to leave it (health and safety) and so hung around for an hour waiting for the electrician to arrive. No wonder more flexible working practices were welcomed with open arms.


    Putting some meaning into a job that at first appears meaningless requires just a little thought and action. It’s a process described as reframing. Of course if your job is to stand by a conveyor belt and pack boxes your scope for reframing is pretty limited, although you could ask to rotate onto other jobs. In fact varying the number or type of activities you undertake one way of reframing a job. Another is to broaden the number and nature of the relationships you have with others. A third is to reflect on the wider importance of your job. If the floors and surfaces weren’t cleaned the chances of infection increases, already ill people may become more distressed, which puts an additional burden on other staff, and so on.


    Work is a significant part of most adult lives and whether you view your work as a job, a career, or a calling, meaning is important for a variety of reasons. It reduces stress by providing a stable foundation and giving a sense of purpose to the things we do. We may have to provide our own meaning and in this sense it is very personal to know why we do what we do. 

Published On: December 15, 2014