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Cracking the Code of Work Meaning: Unveiling the 3 Mysterious Influences

3 minute read

By Stavy Papasotiriou, Organisational Psychologist and founder of  Work Unlocked

Picture this: a worker bee, darting through a labyrinth of cubicles, swiping through emails with one hand while clutching a lukewarm cup of coffee with the other. But is this the pinnacle of work's true essence? Hardly. The intricate pas de deux between the human spirit and the daily grind has long ignited curiosity among organisational psychologists. In this article, we’ll embark on a journey that unravels the enigma—revealing the three key forces that shape the meaning we extract from our work.


Let's start with where work happens—the office, the virtual space, or the shop floor. Throughout history, experts have looked at how the work environment affects us. It's not just about the physical layout but also how our job is designed and the rewards we get. Where we work can make a big difference. An environment that encourages us to take charge, learn, and grow can turn routine tasks into exciting adventures. So, if your employees feel like their workspace is more like a trap, it's time to rethink job roles and what they get in return, so they see work in a more positive light.


Ah, the human psyche—a treasure trove of quirks and complexities. The second key to deciphering work meaning lies within employees themselves. The way they perceive their work, their attitudes, and their intrinsic motivations play a pivotal role in deriving meaning. Imagine two colleagues staring at the same report. One sees it as an insurmountable mountain of data, while the other views it as a puzzle waiting to be solved. It's not just the task; it's the lens through which we view it.

Psychological attributes, attitudes, and personal characteristics shape employee work experiences. The drive to achieve, the passion for mastery, and the hunger for purpose—these are the ingredients that add flavour to their work lives. If work feels as exciting as watching paint dry, maybe it's time to explore how individual traits are influencing the shades of meaning employees extract from it.


Ever played the game of Chinese whispers? Information filters through a chain of people, morphing and evolving along the way. Work meaning can be a bit like that too. The third force in this triad of influences is the social environment. Our colleagues, managers, and even the office janitor—the people we interact with at work—play a role in shaping our perception of meaning.

Wouldn’t you love to work at a workplace where individual ideas are celebrated, and efforts are acknowledged? The camaraderie among colleagues acts like a catalyst, transforming tasks into shared triumphs. Conversely, a toxic work culture can wither even the most exciting projects. The perspectives of those around us help us interpret what aspects of our job are most significant. So, if your workplace feels like a deserted island, devoid of supportive peers and inspiring leaders, it's high time to evaluate how the social tapestry is affecting your employees’ work meaning.


In the big picture of our work lives, these three things—the place we work, how we see things, and the people we work with—come together to shape what work means to us. They influence how we feel about our jobs and what we think is important. So, as you go through your employees’ work tasks and design new roles, remember that understanding what makes work meaningful involves looking at how these three things interact. It's not just about the tasks themselves; it's about how the employee, their surroundings, and the people they're with all work together to make their job feel valuable and fulfilling.



Stavy Papasotiriou is an organisational psychologist and the visionary behind Work Unlocked — a leading HR consultancy on a mission to revolutionise employee engagement, performance, and retention in businesses worldwide. With a profound understanding of HR practices, Stavy leverages psychological principles to unleash the untapped potential of workforces. At Work Unlocked, Stavy crafts bespoke strategies that are grounded in research and tailored to each organisation's unique needs. These strategies are designed to yield remarkable results while requiring minimal resources.

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