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Work & Purpose

Is Your Job Meaningful?

Which ones are, according to a new Payscale study


(This article appeared previously on AOLJobs.com.)

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 information 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.

(MORE: Ways to Get More Purpose From Your Work)

The Medical Field Dominates

Of the top 15 highest-paying, high-meaning jobs, all but two are in medical fields.

Clergy members ranked No. 1 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 No. 2 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 work and sales, which all have an average job meaning under 45 percent.”

(MORE: Pivot to a Second Act With Purpose)

Job Meaning Vs. Satisfaction

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.

(MORE: After 55, the Key Is Staying ‘Engaged’)

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.“

Where does your job land on the meaning spectrum? View the interactive job chart on Payscale.

Mack Gelber is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor who has covered entertainment for AOL TV, and contributed fiction to Joyland Magazine and the Bushwick Review. He is a graduate of Oberlin College, where he studied creative writing. Find him on Twitter @mackgelber.

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