The 4 S’s of Meaningful Work

Never retire.

There’s a big reason the healthiest societies in the world have no word for retirement. I believe retirement is a false concept based on assumptions no longer true. Age 65 retirement was invented when average lifespan was 70.

What’s the solution?

Keep working.  

And make sure whatever you’re doing includes the 4 S’s of meaningful work:

S – Social

We are the most social mammals on the planet for a reason, and it’s not just the extroverts who can master this. Look, according to Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, our social relationships have a greater effect on our happiness than our income, religion, gender, or even health. What does a good workplace foster? Small team dinners. CEO AMAs. Lunch walking groups. Work sports leagues. If these are missing, start one.

S – Structure

There are 168 hours in a week. Fifty-six are for sleep (eight hours a night if you can get it), 56 for work (including things like commuting and extra work at home), and 56 for your passion.

three 56-hour buckets

On structure, there are two things to point out. One, work helps create and pay for your third bucket—the fun bucket, the passion bucket. And two, if everyone in this structure has a third bucket, what can each person bring in from outside of work? Can the word nerd start a book club? Can the hospital volunteer start a company volunteer program? Can the late night DJ plan the Christmas party?

Work structure should allow outside work passions to be big parts of our lives.

S – Stimulation

Always be on the lookout to learn something new. In every job you have, ensure the steepest possible learning curves are between “value giving” and “value getting.” Examples to make sure this happens are things such as staying a maximum of two years in roles, initiating job sharing or job trades, planning regular development sessions, and scheduling quarterly growth meetings with one- and two-up managers. Make sure you can always say yes to the question “Am I learning a lot and adding a lot?” If your answer is tilted one way, it means you’re giving something else up.

S – Story

There’s a reason why Medtronic, the medical devices company famous for popularizing the pacemaker, has family members of patients read letters at company meetings. How would you feel about your job if an 11-year-old girl thanked you for giving her five extra years of memories with her father?  

“Story” is all about feeling that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. It’s about first ensuring the company’s mission and higher-level purpose capture the heart and then bringing the mission to life by regularly sharing customer stories, hanging anecdotal posters on walls, and talking about it at open or closed meetings.

At Facebook, you’re connecting the world. At Wikipedia, you’re giving the world the sum of human knowledge free. At your local paper, you’re increasing community.

What’s your workplace story?

So, I say never give up work. Meaningful work. Work you love. Because you’ll be giving up the 4 S’s—Social, Structure, Stimulation, and Story—you get every day from being there.

Forget the money. You’ll lose the 4 S’s, and they are much more important.