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Commentary: Doing a job you find meaningful is great – until it consumes your life



You might end up sacrificing sleep, hobbies and relationships. And this can have compounding effects over time. Prioritising your work over yourself and going without time for recovery can result in exhaustion, chronic stress and burnout.

Meaningful work can also lead to people neglecting their relationships. Doing work you consider meaningful that becomes a high priority can leave little room for nurturing connections with family, friends and communities outside employment. This can lead to missed social gatherings and forgotten relationship milestones. It may also mean giving lower priority to the everyday interactions with loved ones that make up the core of your relationships with them.

Prioritising work over people can also undermine the trust essential for close personal relationships. The loved ones of people who attach such high value to their work may feel they cannot rely on their presence or emotional availability.

Organisations may knowingly or unknowingly exploit the dedication of people who experience their work as meaningful. Your employer might take advantage of your commitment by expecting you to work long hours, take on additional responsibilities or accept lower pay compared to market standards. Meaningful work can be used as an excuse for strategic decisions from companies to invest inadequately in people and working conditions.

Employees themselves may be willing to make sacrifices. If you work in a career you find deeply meaningful, you may find yourself tolerating poor working conditions or unreasonable demands. You might voluntarily take on extra work.

For example, a passionate teacher might voluntarily take on extra unpaid duties, such as organising after-school programmes or mentoring struggling students, to compensate for systemic issues at the expense of their personal life. While these sacrifices may initially seem worthwhile, they are a recipe for burnout, resentment and a sense of being taken for granted.

It might also make changing jobs difficult. You might put off leaving a role or organisation, or find the very prospect of changing jobs emotionally daunting. If you get a strong sense of purpose and identity from your work, it can be challenging to envisage yourself in a different context. But this could mean missing out on career and pay opportunities elsewhere.


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