When you attach a great deal of meaning to something, like the outcome of a football game or your child’s first word, you get excited and absorbed in the event. The same is true of your work. When you have a strong sense of meaning attached to what you are doing, you bring more of our attention and energy to it. Sadly, many people have been so disillusioned by their experience of work, beyond a paycheck, they have allowed it to be stripped of all meaning.

Have you ever wondered what makes volunteer work so rewarding? For one thing as a volunteer you have chosen to discover rewards beyond monetary gain. Something special goes on – meaning is made. You feel as if you have made a difference and attach meaning to that contribution.

So What Are You Choosing Your Work to Mean? This question assumes that you can choose it’s meaning. One of the things that we so frequently forget is that we do have choice. It is easy to become distracted by the number of things in which we have no choice. There is an old story about a man who came upon three stonemasons – each carving a piece of stone. When asked what he was doing, the first man replied he was “earning enough money to feed his children”. The second said he was, “applying his art to the best of his ability”. The third said he was, “building a cathedral”. All of the men had the same job – the meaning they applied was quite different.

‘Gen Y’ is creating an impact on the way we organize ourselves at work. One of the defining characteristics of this very large cohort (second only to Baby Boomers) is their concern that the company they work for has values that match their own. Also they need to understand how their work contributes to the organization’s bottom line. In short, Gen Y needs to know they can make a difference.

The challenges associated with the imminent retirement of the Baby Boomers have been referred to a lot in the press and media. Not so much has been said about the significance of Gen Y and what they are looking for in a job. Meaningful participation is important to this demographic cohort and as such will play an increasingly important role in attracting and retaining employees for the foreseeable future. For them the question ‘What does you work mean?’ matters a great deal.