When meaningful work and job satisfaction lead to good mental health

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Légende: Recommendation of our expert

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Expert adviser and lead author : Étienne FOUQUET, research assistant, Université de Sherbrooke
Authors :

Rachèle HÉBERT, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke Marie-Eve MAJOR, associate professor, ergonomics, Faculty of Kinesiology, Université de Sherbrooke Rébecca LEFEBVRE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.

Meaningful work is an increasingly popular phenomenon when it comes to organizational health. More specifically, it appears that, when paired with job satisfaction, meaningful workimproves employee’s mental health.How are these mechanisms related, and how can organizations benefit from them? To answer these questions, we examined the findings of a study published in 2017 by Allan and colleagues aiming 1) to evaluate the perception of loss of meaningful work as a predictor of depression, anxiety, and stress and 2) to determine the influence of job satisfaction on the perception of meaningful work and mental health.

What do we mean by :

Perception of meaningful work

An employee’s perception of meaningful workrefers to their feeling that the work they are doing has importance, value, and usefulness based on their own ideals and standards. Work that is significant, or meaningful, answers the question “why am I here?” It is useful to distinguish between the terms meaningful work, which refers to the meaning that a person perceives in the work they do, and the meaning of work, which refers to the value ascribed to work by society. Meaningful work can be highly motivational, leading to improved commitment and job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction

Job satisfactionmeans that an employee has a positive view of their work based on their work experiences and expectations. In other words, an employee is satisfied with their work if it meets their expectations of what their job should be.

Mental health

In the article that we are examining, good mental health refers to an absence of depression, anxiety, and stress. It would nevertheless be useful to define this concept. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.*

*World Health Organization 

What do the study’s results reveal?


Meaningful work and job satisfaction improve the mental health of employees. But, for this to happen, both must be present!

Study’s results

Taken separately, the perception of meaningful work and job satisfaction do not appear to be enough to improve or positively influence mental health.

  • Being able to answer the question “why am I here?” is not enough to eliminate stress and anxiety at work. A person can clearly see that their job conforms to their ideals while still feeling stressed or anxious.
  • The fact that an employee feels satisfied at work indicates that their work meets their expectations. They will thus be more motivated to do their daily work, but will not necessarily enjoy better mental health.

The perception of meaningful work and job satisfaction improve mental health when they are both present!

  • In general, study participants who found meaning in their work AND felt job satisfaction experienced less anxiety, stress, and depression.
  • It is thus the combination of the perception of meaningful work and job satisfaction that has a beneficial effect on  employee’s mental health!


Workers fromvarious industries and different nationalitieshad toanswer an online questionnaire:

  • 212 employees
  • Average age = 42 (18–65)
  • Several different ethnicities

In the questionnaire, three concepts were measured: perception of meaningful work, job satisfaction, and mental health.


Because studies must always be interpreted with caution Although this study revealed that combining the perception of meaningful work and job satisfaction can improve employee’s mental health, better mental health could also improve the perception of meaningful work and job satisfaction.

Actions for employers

Simple and practical actions can be made to improve employees’ perception of meaningful work and job satisfaction.





Use individual strengths at work

  • Get to know employees to motivate them
  • Foster a culture of collaboration
  • Serve a cause greater than oneself
  • Know employees strengthsand assignthem even the simplest tasks based on their strengths.
  • Promote employees autonomyof in their fields of competence: they will attribute the confidence shown in them to a sense of competence and will have the necessary latitude to attribute meaning to their work.
  • Offer à la carte* trainingto employees based on their expertise. An increased sense of competence will lead to greater job satisfaction.
  • Hire employees based on their ability to collaboratewith people whose strengths are complementary rather than similar. Multidisciplinary teams are more effective and innovative!
  • Consider employees suggestions This practice is increasingly valued by major IT companies and yields positive results: good ideas can come from everywhere; don’t overlook these sources!
  • As often as possible, give feedback to Positive feedback can lead to increased job satisfaction. Corrective feedback is also valuable, however. This is particularly true for millennials: helping employees to improve demonstrates confidence in their future and their potential.
  • Highlight successes. For example, a group activity or an after-hours drink can promote employee solidarity and collaboration.
  • Take the time and make the effort to let employees know the importance of their work to the organization. This acknowledgement will help them appreciate and value their contribution.
  • Encourage employees to get involved in projects they care about, even outside the organization, such as through charities or local sports organizations.
  • Highlight sustainable development policies and the organization’s contributions to society. This will instill greater pride in their association with the organization.
*A la carte training activities can be suggested by the employees themselves. In this way, employees can take charge of their own competency development, promoting their perception of meaningful work and improved job satisfaction.

Recommendations from our expert

It’s not unusual for organizations to implement reward systems to increase employee job satisfaction:

  • It’s important to be careful with this type of action.
  • It has been shown that rewards (e.g., bonuses or trophies) can have a negative impact on employees’ perception of meaningful work.

Why? Employees who experience meaningful work feel that what they are doing is aligned with their aspirations:

  • Rewards create the impression that they are working to meet expectations rather than to fulfill their own aspirations.
  • A more effective solution would be to offer so-called “symbolic” rewards such as expressing appreciation for their efforts or announcing employee achievements in an in-house publication.


Fouquet, E., Hébert, R., Major, M.-E., Lefebvre, R. (2018). When meaningful work and job satisfaction lead to good mental health. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at


Allan, B. A., Dexter, C., Kinsey, R., & Parker, S. (2018). Meaningful work and mental health: job satisfaction as a moderator. Journal of Mental Health, 27(1), 38-44.

Pierre Breton
Author: Pierre Breton