Recent research from executive education providers Roffey Park suggests that 63 per cent of board directors, 72 per cent of middle managers and 69 per cent of directors and senior managers are looking for a greater sense of meaning in their working lives. The research, including a survey and Roffey Park's Management Agenda 2004, also states there is a clear business case for taking the issue of meaning seriously.
The search for meaning appears to be part of a fundamental human need to feel important and make a difference. According to the research - involving more than 1,000 managers from across various industries - this quest can be triggered by life changes, such as reaching a landmark birthday. It can also be prompted by changes in an organisation.
The business case for meaning is built around a simple premise: people who feel their work lacks meaning are more likely to leave their jobs, causing retention problems (42 per cent of the research sample is currently looking for other jobs). And organisations are likely to find that change is harder to manage, thanks to employee cynicism. Given that the largest group reporting a search for meaning are those aged between 20-30, organisations are also increasingly likely to find recruitment of much sought-after young talent harder to achieve.
Having meaning appears to correlate strongly with doing 'good work' - the release of discretionary effort that theorists have variously estimated raises performance by 19 per cent.
For Csikszentmihalyi (professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago) and others, 'doing good work feels good. Few things in life are as enjoyable as when we concentrate on a difficult task, using all our skills, knowing what has to be done. In flow we feel totally involved, lost in seemingly effortless performance'. Is this the secret of high levels of motivation?
According to the research, the main drivers for this search for greater meaning include dissatisfaction with long working hours, concern over the prospect of longer working lives and uncertainty over pensions, as well as broader concerns about a more materialistic and secular society; accountancy and other scandals at high levels, such as WorldCom and Enron, and global political instability.
People working in large organisations, with large spans of control and heavy workloads, tend to be most likely to report a lack of mea