December 7, 2021

Using Your Talents for Good: A Guide to Finding Meaningful Work

By: Jeri Herman, SVP, Human Resources, Cengage Group

Image of laptop and person's hand, screen shows

The events of 2020 - from the global pandemic to increased concerns on climate change to calls for social and economic justice - combined with the arrival of Gen Z have had a transformational impact on the employment landscape. All of these factors, alongside what many are calling The Great Resignation, have resulted in a labor shortage across industries that has put more power in the hands of employees than ever before.

Some labor and employment experts theorize that “pandemic burnout” disrupted the workforce and caused workers in many industries, especially essential service industries, to rethink their career and find a new job. If you’re one of the millions of U.S. workers who have quit your job or are currently reassessing your career, you might be thinking about what factors matter most in finding your next career opportunity.

While factors like salary, benefits, commute time and other “traditional work perks” are still important, there are a few non-traditional aspects to consider when evaluating an employer that might have an even bigger impact on your overall job happiness. For example, how can you determine whether a prospective employer shares your values? Does an employer provide a work environment that not only improves your existing skills, but also supports your growth and learning? Should company culture factor into the opportunities you pursue? What purpose do you want to fulfill in your job?

Here are a few tips to help you evaluate future opportunities and employers:

1. Seek value-based work and a culture that empowers meaningful work

Some people are raised with very strong values; others develop them as they mature into adulthood. Either way, being able to identify the things that matter to you - whether it’s equality, climate, health and wellness, or something else entirely different - will help determine whether an opportunity or an organization is a good fit.

One way to approach this is to determine what you would do “if money was no object.” How would you spend your time? For some, it might be community activism. For others, it might be having ample downtime for relaxation and mindfulness. Understanding what’s important to you goes a long way in finding a company that cares about the same things you do.

It’s also important to recognize when an employer is truly guided by its values or just paying lip service to the current “call for change.” Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, for example, is famously known for its mantra, “Ice cream can change the world.” The company was founded on and continues to be guided by core values centered on equality, sustainability and nonviolence. Though now owned by food giant Unilever, the founders required the conglomerate to continue the brand’s tradition of mission-based commerce when being acquired.

Not every company operates with such a clearly defined mission. However, a company’s culture is a strong indicator of how employees are valued, encouraged and empowered to do work that matters to them.

Understanding how employees feel about the company they work for should be part of your research when deciding whether to take a new job. Take the time to read employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor, scan the company’s blog or review their LinkedIn page to see their latest activity.

Some companies -- like us -- even post employee testimonies that give you a glimpse into what it's like to work at their company. For example, on our Employee Experience page, we share testimonies from real employees like Kara, our senior director of customer success: “Cengage has been, and continues to be, a place that I not only feel at home but a place where I am making a difference. Our culture promotes candid feedback and collaboration across the organization. I have never felt like I need to hold back on sharing an idea. Thinking out loud and questioning how we do things is encouraged. It is so fulfilling to see ideas put in motion through our products, our people and the opportunities Cengage provides.”

2. Ask employers how they invest in people 

As employers search for new ways to recruit and retain talent, many are redefining benefit packages and perks.

While we know flexibility in work location / schedule has become a nearly universal demand for employees in any field, employer-sponsored learning and development is another important investment companies are making. Whether it’s company-led learning courses or outside learning programs that are reimbursed by the employer, skills-based learning programs not only boost employee confidence and morale, but also help employees meet new performance goals, take on a new role within the company and/or achieve upward mobility.

In addition to providing more access to skills-based learning, companies are also helping employees pursue their outside interests. And this “benefit” is worth discussing with any potential employer.

At Cengage Group, for example, we believe in the power of learning and our mission is to help learners achieve their goals and dreams. We not only offer many learning paths to help individuals succeed, but we also invest in helping our employees achieve their dreams. We provide an open work environment that encourages collaboration, exploration and innovative thinking. Adam, a member of the Cengage Group’s talent team, puts it this way: “Our goal is to build a culture with programs and initiatives that ensure a great employee experience for every individual at Cengage. Employees feel that they are valued, included and continuously growing, which in turn, drives them to give 100 percent to learners everywhere.”

Since 2017, Cengage has invested more than $5 million in our employees’ learning and development, enabling them to not only support the learning journeys of others, but to also continue on their own path to stronger and expanded skills. In addition to providing access to Cengage classes through ed2go and other skilling platforms, each Cengage employee is eligible for tuition and certification reimbursement of up to $5,250 a year. And we pay it forward as well, offering scholarships for our employees’ children who plan to continue their education in college or through vocational programs.

 3. Understand how you can make a difference

At the end of the day, regardless of your employer’s purpose and the benefits / perks they offer, you will ultimately measure your job satisfaction by how your work makes you feel. Even highly-incentivized employees will lose passion for their work if they don’t believe their contribution makes a difference.

At Cengage Group, our employees know their work contributes to something bigger, and we encourage collaboration and individual creativity to bring our purpose to life. “I strongly believe that through education we can solve most of the challenges we face as a civilization,” Thais, Cengage Group vice president of product management and learning experiences has said. “Education provides learners the opportunity to succeed and flourish. Why not work on something that will make the world a better place? At Cengage, we are challenged to think about creativity in a broader sense, which is hugely valuable as we evaluate ways to improve the student experience. I love having the freedom to try new approaches, and the ability to collaborate with my peers across the business to hear fresh perspectives and overcome obstacles together.”

The pandemic has prompted many workers to re-evaluate how they spend their time and make a living. Employers, facing a surplus of job openings and a lack of applicants, are making new efforts to better support employees in new ways -- from creating new perks and benefits to transforming company culture to align with a greater purpose. And many companies want to support employees’ search to find meaningful work that allows them to use their talent for good and find their work passion.

Finding a new career that supports your passions is a big challenge -- and we'd love to help. At Cengage Group, we empower our employees to make an impact and we're 100% focused on living our purpose of helping students become job-ready. If you're interested in our purpose and joining our team, we'd love to hear about your passions and how you can support our team’s mission. Visit our careers page to learn more about working at Cengage and the roles we are currently hiring.