Meaning is a tough thing to define. To some, meaning is synonymous with impact, i.e Symbols and Signs is objectively a meaningful piece of literature whether or not you yourself have read it by right of its sustained relevance. To others (myself included), meaning operates with internal currency. More discretely: no one will ever read the short stories I write in my bedroom but without them I’d feel a little less whole.

For the longest time the freshets of purpose and employment were never meant to cross streams and on the occasions that they did, it was customary to accept the defect soberly–even within the arts. Watch any interview with any actor from 60 years ago and compare it to the ones from now. Performers of the golden-age would typically describe what they did in clerical terms. Acting was just a job; a fun job with lots of perks and challenges but a job all the same. Today, tell us about the film? Is a green light to drone on and on with parallels, metaphors, euphemistic dribble and half-remembered references to Viola Spolin or what have you.  Satanic panic, recessions, fraught political times,  and the weathering of theological institutions have all played a role in metamorphosing the career that pays our bills into the calling that dictates our well-being.  A new study authored by researchers at Olivet Nazarene University, articulates this curiosity with a massive survey featuring 2,024 employed Millennials.  To this, the authors write,

“Millennials now occupy a third of the American workforce, and their influence on workplace and career norms has been much discussed. We know they value informal culture, flexibility and progressive benefits. They’ve also proven to be a conscientious and outspoken generation, in tune with the world around them. To this point, we’re curious about millennials’ relationship with their work and career. Do millennials prioritize meaningful work? Are they willing to work more hours, for less money, to make a positive impact on the world?”

The strategic pursuit of purpose

The authors conducted a series of interviews with over 2,000 currently employed Americans between the ages of 25 and 40 from September 19th to September 22nd, 2019. The median age of the study pool was 32;  55% of which were female and 45% were male.

According to the new report, more than half of the participants (57%) felt that it is very important for their work to have a positive impact on the world. An additional 50% would take a pay cut to achieve this objective and 68% would work significantly more hours than they do currently in the pursuit of the same. Lengthening my suspicion that the generality of this desire is more or less unique to Millennials and Gen Zers,  56% of respondents belonging to the former were confident that meaningful work meant more to them than it did to their parents. Good thing too, because 64% of the same demographic are currently employed at places that provide them with purpose. Thirty-nine percent of the 36% that do not share in this fortune, feel trapped by reason of it.

“One of the most interesting outcomes of our study is that we’ve been able to assess how people rate the meaning of their work across different industries, types of work and company missions,” the authors explained. “The differentiation between industries is plain and intuitive. In the latter two cases, we attempted to segment the vast world of professional work in other ways, to eliminate various biases and penetrate beneath the surface layer of industry labels.”

This article was originally published on The Ladders.

Sign up to receive daily news, inspiration, and advice on how to master work and life from Ladders.

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.