Helping Others Increases Meaningful Work: Evidence From Three Experiments

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Abstract

The aim of the current research was to examine whether manipulating task significance increased the meaningfulness of work among students (Study 1), an online sample of working adults (Study 2), and public university employees (Study 3). In Study 1, students completed a typing task for the benefit of themselves, a charity, or someone they knew would directly benefit from their work. People who worked to benefit someone else, rather than themselves, reported greater task meaningfulness. In Study 2, a representative, online sample of employees reflected on a time when they worked to benefit themselves or someone else at work. Results revealed that people who reflected on working to benefit someone else, rather than themselves, reported greater work meaningfulness. In Study 3, public university employees participated in a community intervention by working as they normally would, finding new ways to help people each day, or finding several new ways to help others on a single day. People who helped others many times in a single day experienced greater gains in work meaningfulness over time. Across 3 experimental studies, we found that people who perceived their work as helping others experienced more meaningfulness in their work. This highlights the potential mechanisms practitioners, employers, and other parties can use to increase the meaningfulness of work, which has implications for workers’ well-being and productivity.

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