The meaningful aspects of what we do give us the greatest rewards

It is the meaningful aspects of what we do

Charles Handy recently explained to attendees at Worktech 13 London why money is not the main motivating factor for employees; while at the same event, Claudia Hamm-Barstow of Jones Lang LaSalle added that the dream workplace is “a place where the company adds value to the employee experience, people feel valued and welcomed, the organisation feels meaningful, the work is rewarding and importantly there are no stupid rules”. According to The Human Givens Institute neither of these statements should be at all surprising. But The Human Givens theory adds that we also need to be respected, to feel in control, to have self-esteem, privacy and community.  And, most crucially of all, we need to have purpose and meaning in our lives.

It explains why sometimes the most wealthy people, who appear to have it all, are sometimes the most desperately unhappy because their lives have no purpose – and ironically, it is their wealth that is preventing them finding work to be truly satisfying.

Of course we all need to have enough money to have our most basic needs met – as Maslow points out – these are to have enough to eat and drink, and a safe stable secure place to live.  But once those needs are satisfied then we move into a different zone where money doesn’t matter nearly as much. In fact there have been reports of people happily preferring to work for less or to turn down promotion if it means they can stay with their friends.

It is this importance of meaning and purpose that gives some with the most simple lifestyle to feel more deeply satisfied that those who appear to have everything in material terms. It can be the way that people who work in very low-paid jobs are sometimes able to elevate themselves above their situation and can genuinely claim to be able to find deep happiness despite the lack of money

It is true that the level of what we need can increase as ‘wants’ morph into ‘needs’ and things that were previously luxuries become ‘essentials’.  However once these basic essential and luxury needs are met, we are more inclined to regard more money as a status symbol and a differentiator which confers privilege. Some people believe that earning more in some way indicates that they are better than others.

Some organisations either pay all staff the same on the basis that they are all equally important whatever their job, or give all staff an equal dividend of the profits. Both approaches are proven ways of increasing staff loyalty and productivity.

But it is the ability to find meaning in purpose in our lives that always trumps the financial rewards – or it should. If we allow the fiscal to override the purpose, that’s when people start to feel depressed, anxious or plain dissatisfied, and they end up in my therapy rooms. But most people are well balanced enough to realise that, once we reach a certain level or comfort, it is the meaningful aspects of what we do that gives us the best rewards.


annieAnnie Gurton is a Psychological Therapist and Counsellor based in Sydney. She has an MA in Psychotherapy, a BSc(Hons) in Psychology and a BS(Hons) in Humanities.  She is a member of the British Psychological Society (MBPsS) and a Clinical Member of CAPA NSW (Counselling And Psychotherapy Association). or email: