When work has no meaning


More than a third of British workers think their jobs are meaningless. ( survey by YouGov) So either you think your job is meaningless, one of your colleagues does or some of the people you manage do. If they don't place any value on the work they do, then presumably they don't feel that their contribution adds anything, so what does it matter how hard they work or whether they  turn up for work? Other than of course to get paid. 


After leaving school I worked in a large DSS office ( Department of Social Security) as part of the post team. My job along with two others was to match incoming post with existing claimants files. We would start each day with a list of names and slowly work down the list. If the person was an existing claimant their case file should be in the filing cabinet which stretched the full length of the open plan office. If it wasn't in the filing cabinet it might be one of the files piled up on top of the overflowing cabinet draws  or it could be that some one already had the file out in which case it could be on the desk of any of the 30 odd staff who worked on that floor, alternatively it could be that they were not an existing client and as yet did not have a case file. No matter how fast and how diligently we worked we never reached the end of the list before the next day's post added new names. I stuck the job for three weeks! 


This was a time before records were computerised but as the YouGov survey shows computers have not brought an end to meaningless work. 


Compare this to my next job working in a children's residential home, the pay was no better, the hours were worse however it had meaning, it wasn't just my colleagues who were relying on me. How I went about my work made a difference. Unlike the post team, caring  for young people was emotionally demanding and unlike matching post it was hard not to think about work when you were away from the place. 


I can still remember the names of the seven children in my unit who I was directly responsible for. I can remember putting them to bed at night and always being asked the same question," Who's on in the morning?"


 Just as a specialist social worker for people with dementia I can remember my first clients Ethel Saddler and her over feed dog Blackie and Mabel Walden and all those burnt pans.  


Somewhere between these two extremes of not caring and caring too much lies the type of meaningful work which still allows you to switch off when you get home but as a social worker and later as a senior manager I never found it. 


Blair McPherson ex social worker and former Director of community services www.blairmcpherson.co.uk 


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