Study Asks, 'Is Your Job Meaningful?'

Job meaning and job satisfaction are not the same thing

social worker visit sick old...
ShutterstockSocial workers reported having a high sense of meaningfulness in their work despite low compensation.

Payscale has just released a study on job meaning as it relates to compensation and satisfaction, and the results are exhaustive, revealing, and maybe a little sad.
The site, which stands as the world's largest database of compensation info with over 40 million profiles, asked 374,000 workers if they thought their job made the world a better place. The underlying message? If you're looking for meaning in your job, be prepared to take a pay cut--or go to med school.

Of the top 15 highest-paying, high-meaning jobs, all but two are in medical fields. Clergy members ranked number-one in career meaningfulness, but with a median pay of $45,000, they're on the lower-middle end of the money spectrum (directors of religious activities, who ranked number two for job meaning, make even less at $35,900).

To the list of high-meaning, low-paying jobs, you can also add firefighters ($43,500), preschool administrators ($32,400), and social workers ($41,200).

"When we look at broader job groupings, Community and Social Service workers report the highest average job meaning with an average of 84 percent saying their work is meaningful. This grouping includes narrower job groups such as Marriage and Family Therapists, Clergy, and Directors of Religious Activities and Education," said Katie Bardaro, Lead Economist at PayScale. "The three broader job categories with the lowest average job meaning are Food Preparation and Service, Legal, and Sales, which all have an average job meaning under 45 percent."

But what is job meaning, really? For one thing, it's not the same as job satisfaction. As the study demonstrates, it's possible to have a job with little positive effect on the world (at least in the eyes of the employees), but still find that job highly satisfying. For instance, gaming supervisors reported 80 percent job satisfaction despite having the lowest score for meaning in the study. Advertising managers also ranked highly for satisfaction (71 percent), even if meaningfulness was on the lower end (30 percent)--which should ring true for anyone who's ever watched Mad Men.

Of course, many of the jobs that ranked low for both meaning and satisfaction are also poorly compensated: fast food cooks, cashiers, and dishwashers, all low in both categories, receive median compensation under $20K. But if there's one big takeaway from the study, it's that the overlap between meaning, satisfaction, and pay is blurry--and if you manage to find a job that hits all three, you're pretty darn lucky.

"Meaningful work and a high salary aren't mutually exclusive as we see in the case of surgeons, for example," Bardo added. Pay does not seem to influence meaning one way or the other."

Here are the results of the study, in splashy interactive form. Where does your job land on the meaning spectrum?

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