10 Executive Tips for Finding More Meaning at Work

10 Executive Tips for Finding More Meaning at Work was originally published on Ivy Exec.

If you were to press pause and ruminate on the root of the fulfillment you feel (or don’t feel) at work, your mind probably wouldn’t wander to commuter parking perks and pizza Fridays. You’d probably ponder your purpose. 

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. employees say that the COVID-19 crisis, in particular, has encouraged them to reflect on their purposes in life. Almost half of them are reconsidering their careers due to pandemic-induced revelations, according to McKinsey research. After all, 70 percent of people feel that their purposes manifest in the work they do. Their jobs are among the top three most-mentioned purposeful parts of life, according to the Pew Research Center.

That’s why ever more C-suite executives recognize the importance of organizational purpose, as well, according to a recent report from Allison+Partners, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, and The Harris Poll. Amongst them, 92 percent agree that if their companies prioritized purpose more, they’d be more successful. Ninety-five percent think the purpose is a source of pride for their employees—many of whom share values and feel aligned with their companies’ missions.

They’re right. Sixty-six percent of employees say that their employers’ positive impacts matter more to them now than they ever did—so much so that organizational purpose is on par with their compensation.

In fact, nine out of 10 workers would swap money for meaning. On average, they’d sacrifice 23 percent of their earnings (a cool $21,000 a year) if it meant they could have “work that’s always meaningful,” a recent BetterUp survey suggests. 

And when leaders find their jobs highly meaningful, it not only has an impact on their own productivity and performance but also has a domino effect on their companies. Turnover rates plummet to 1.5 percent, which is below half the national average.

But all too many professionals, executives included, haven’t found that meaning just yet. Rather, they find themselves going through the motions each day, searching for that meaning in what too often feels meaningless.

If you can relate to that, you’re not alone. 

That’s why we caught up with ten executives to share how they’ve successfully found or created meaning in their own careers. They’ve explained how to take control over what you can change to find purpose, ensuing fulfillment, and, ultimately, greater success in your career.

How to Find More Meaning in Your Work That Feels Meaningless

Here’s what they had to say.

Remember that how you show up matters.

“Just because you aren’t saving the whales doesn’t mean that your day-to-day work doesn’t create ripples that can affect thousands of people,” says Quinn Spicker, CTO of Snapcell Inc., who creates software that improves trust, transparency, and efficiency at over 1,000 car dealerships across North America. “How you show up affects your co-workers, your customers, your vendor partners, and, in turn, their co-workers, customers, and vendor partners. Passion and purpose are infectious.”

Shift your focus.

“Two main things define meaningful work for me,” says Josh Haynam, CEO of interact. “One is solving problems for other people. And the other is working on projects I find fascinating. But, as long as #1 exists, it’s pretty easy to discover fascination in the problems, so it really comes down to what will benefit others.”

He adds that the hard part of changing what you’re working on to find meaning in it is that “there’s this little thing called income you have to bring in.” That’s why his best advice is to shift your focus toward more meaningful work instead.

“Begin noticing which parts of your work do bring fulfillment, and slowly increase the amount of time and energy that you put into those tasks each day,” he explains. “Then, over time, you’ll find more and more of your time dedicated to the work that really brings fulfillment and, ultimately, success.”

Make an impact apart of the business.

“Build impact into your business model so, as the business scales, so does the scale of that impact,” says Grace “Ori” Kwan, co-founder of Orca, which creates technology that makes the financial system more open, efficient, and user-friendly. 

One way Kwan does this is through effective altruism. A portion of trading fees on Orca goes to the Orca Impact Fund, which donates to charities focused on climate change and sustainability.

“Making the Impact Fund part of Orca from the very beginning has allowed us not only to make a difference in causes we care about but also to attract the type of people who care about doing good through their work,” she explains. “As a [leader], you have more power than you might think to set a positive example. I was surprised to find essentially no resistance to the idea of building “giving” directly into our business model; it just needed someone to champion the idea.”

You can be that person for your company.

Look outside yourself.

“Finding purpose in your work isn’t always a clear-cut task; however, in every line of work, there’s a way in which your efforts contribute to the greater good,” assures Adam Rossi, CEO of TotalShield

For instance, Rossi says that he finds purpose in his work through knowing that the products his company sells intend to keep workers safe. TotalShield sells “blast-resistant shields” that are designed for temporary test operations.

“If you’re struggling to find fulfillment, look outside yourself and reflect on the impact your business has on the world around you.”

Take control over what you can.

“We can’t control the waves, but we can learn to sail and foster a positive mindset even in the most challenging times,” says Chris Holter, former C-suite executive, and executive coach. 

As an executive during the pandemic, he took his own advice to get through tough times. In turn, he says that it helped him stay motivated and create momentum. He suggests you do the same, and approach all situations by asking yourself how you can be of support or service, what opportunities are present and how you can all win, or how you can create joy and fun that also creates success.

Make a move to something more important.

Kate Kandefer, CEO of SEOWind, thinks that finding meaning in your work is simple; it’s doing it in such a way that you can maintain your current lifestyle that’s tricky.

“Personally, I went the entrepreneurial route and became a serial start-up guru to ensure I only put time into what I find personally worthwhile—despite it being rough going at the start,” she says. “Making that jump would be my advice to everyone in a similar position that feels that spark that once drove them waning.”

She adds that you don’t necessarily need to make a drastic change like she did (going from the CEO of a company with thousands of people to running a start-up out of your house). But starting small to find a job that’s more closely aligned with your interests and values can be huge.

Remember that your job doesn’t have to define you.

“I am lucky enough to work in a field where I know that I’m helping people to have more quality time with their pets,” says Josh Snead, the CEO of Rainwalk Pet Insurance. “As an animal lover and dog owner myself, I love being able to spread this kind of joy through my work.”

Still, Snead says that it’s important not to try to ascribe too much meaning to your work.

“While there are people out there who have deeply meaningful and fulfilling careers, there is definitely more to life than work, and many people find much more fulfillment in their friends, families, pets, hobbies, faith, or activist work.”

For some people, a job is only something that can support their ability to focus on what really matters to them outside of the working day—and that’s okay, too.

Surround yourself with support.

“My work is meaningful to me because part of what we do at Cloud Peak Law Group helps entrepreneurs choose and form their new business structures,” says Mark Pierce, CEO. “Getting to see people take business ideas into full-fledged businesses is incredibly rewarding.”

One way he’s able to experience those rewards is by surrounding himself with peers who support his vision.

“My advice to ensure both fulfillment and success in your career is to surround yourself with a network of peers who form your support system,” he explains. “Having a network of people you can turn to when you’re facing a challenge, when you need some words of encouragement, or when you want to celebrate a win provides you with much of what you need to succeed, both professionally and personally.”

Set high standards.

Alice Li, the owner, and CEO of First Day, which makes multivitamins, says that her genuine desire to help people take better care of themselves and lead healthier lives gives her work purpose. But it’s not so simple.

“When it comes to deriving purpose through your work, I would say that I’m not one of those people who derive the meaning of life out of work but, given the structure of our lives these days, it would be dishonest to disregard the importance of work in one’s life,” she explains.

That’s why she says that her work philosophy is simple: “Set high standards and strive to be the best.”

“Instead of running after titles, your journey should be one that requires continuous self-improvement and, in the process, you not only help yourself, but you also produce the best results for all the stakeholders involved in the process.”

Endeavor to better yourself.

“I think it’s true that even execs can find themselves in seasons of apathy or going through the motions; I know I have,” admits Ken Marshall, chief growth officer of RevenueZen. “Although, my remedy for this is also what I find so satisfying about leadership and being an owner, as well.”

Nothing is more satisfying to him than challenging himself to find new, exciting, and unexplored territory—and aligning that personal growth with the growth of his team and organization as a whole—he tells us.   

“My hunch is that execs who find themselves going through the motions for long stretches of time without correction are folks who have stopped seeking ongoing education and putting themselves into unfamiliar situations on a regular basis,” he adds.

If you’re consistently on “a journey to a better place” in any aspect of your business, he believes that you’ll find yourself “too preoccupied and too happily exhausted” to question your purpose in the first place. 

Additional: Ask Yourself These Questions to Find Work That Fuels Your Purpose


By Ivy Exec
Ivy Exec is your dedicated career development resource.