the meaning of work: a timeline [infographic]

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The meaning of work: a timeline
5 events that have led us to a bigger purpose

How have our perceptions of work changed in the last 30-plus years? See if this triggers memories or brings to light how we’re all looking for meaning in work.

1980s Big Brands
Beginning with the worst economy since the Great Depression, the 80’s quickly boomed and so did big brands and job security. Workers seized the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder.

1990s Dot Com Boom
In 1993, the World Wide Web blasted off and connected workers around the globe. No longer restricted to brick and mortar, businesses opened up to a new world online.

September 11, 2001
Terrorist attacks shake the emotional foundation on the Nation. Workers begin to question the meaning of work.

2003 – 2007 A  New Social Scene
Almost overnight, Social Media adds a new level of transparency, forcing organizations to improve customer satisfaction and employee engagement. Workers feel empowered with a new online voice of their own.

The Crash
The 2008 – 2009 economic fallout sent organizations, employee outlook, and workforce optimization for a nosedive. 2.6 million jobs were lost from September to December of 2008.

As the economy rebounds, small and big business sectors notice a shift unlike any before—the intent to find meaning and purpose in work. New workers seek opportunities to make a social impact, mid-career workers start to express their individuality, and final career stage workers realize it’s time to pursue their dreams.

What does the future hold?
Research shows a movement of passion and compassion. People want to positively impact other people through their work. In their paper, Interpersonal Sensemaking and the Meaning of Work, Amy Wrzesniewski, Jane E. Dutton and Gelaye Debebe, suggest, “The cues employees receive from others in the course of their jobs speak directly to the value ascribed by others to the job, role, and employee.”

The Great Work Study analyzed 1.7 million cases of award-winning work and showed, “Employees who saw for themselves how their work impacted the recipient of their work were 17 times more likely to become passionate about their work.”

Soon, work may be defined by the impact it has on someone else’s life.

What motivates you to do great work? Send your thoughts to and enter for a chance to win a copy of our New York Times bestseller, Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love.

Comments (1)
Crystalee Beck

What an infographic! As one who strives to find meaning and purpose in my work, I sometimes get discouraged when it seems corporations are solely driven by the bottom line. I love the thought that “work may be defined by the impact it has on someone else’s life.”

Thanks for the spot-on content, O.C. Tanner. #greatwork

November 14, 2014   |   Reply
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