meaningful work
03 Jul
  • By Dayle Kavonic
  • Cause in

CSR and the Pursuit of Meaning at Work

The world of work has changed drastically over the past 200 years. And thank goodness it has. Because as much as there’s still room for improvement today, the situation was especially dire for workers a few centuries ago. In the early 1800s, labourers were required to toil away for between 10 and 16 hours per day, often for six days a week, and in horrific conditions.

Workers’ Day, celebrated annually on 1 May, actually has its origins in the push for a more reasonable eight-hour workday and fairer working conditions, which gained momentum during the mid- to late-1800s.

In South Africa, the holiday has taken on additional layers of significance – it honours the role played by trade unions and other labour movements in the battle against apartheid rule – but it remains a reminder of the importance of protecting the rights and welfare of workers.


The Evolution of Work

Much of the transformation that’s taken place over the past few decades has centred on promoting fairness and equality in the workplace and on enhancing job satisfaction, worker well-being and work-life balance.

We have, for example, started the move from fixed to flexible working hours, from traditional hierarchical models to flatter structures, from fear-based leadership to empowering governance, and, of late, much more emphasis has been placed on promoting diversity and addressing sexual harassment in professional environments.

But another significant shift is happening, too. And it hinges on something a little more abstract: the pursuit of meaning.

It used to be enough that our jobs would pay the bills, help us to put food on the table and to send our kids to university. But today, employees want more: we want a greater sense of purpose; we want workplace fulfilment; we want to feel like we’re making a difference. And companies are beginning to realise that in order to engage us – the workforce of 2019 – they have to support our desire for something greater than a pay cheque; they have to offer us channels through which to seek and find meaning.


Meaning through Giving

The question is, what does it mean to find meaning at work? How does one achieve something as elusive as a sense of purpose? The results of a fascinating Stanford Graduate School of Business research project suggest that meaningfulness is, in fact, associated with the act of giving. In an article for Fast Company, leadership development professional Jessica Amortegui summarises some of the findings of the study as such:

“Meaningfulness … comes from being a ‘giver’, suspending what one wants and desires for a fair amount of self-sacrifice. … to amp up the meaning in work, we must temper our taking tendencies and dial up our acts of giving.”

The link between meaning and generosity, almost certainly, at least partly, accounts for why today’s younger generations are more inclined to join businesses that make positive contributions to society than those that don’t. Employee engagement research by Cone Communications shows that 76% of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, 75% would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company, and 64% won’t take a job from a company that doesn’t embrace philanthropic efforts.

What this means, then, is that if your business doesn’t enforce strong CSR practices, you’re not only missing out on the chance to attract top young talent (among many other benefits); you’re also not serving the needs of your current workforce sufficiently.

Investing in CSR is essential if you want to move with the times and boost employee satisfaction while also addressing social ills.

It’s a beautiful way to communicate to your staff members, not only on Workers’ Day but regularly, that you see them, value them and support their search for meaning. And it’s an important channel through which to play a role in further transforming the world of work for the better.


Need help building a successful CSR programme at your business? Contact us at Brownie Points – we’re here to support you every step of the way.


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Dayle Kavonic

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