Yesterday during our weekly team meeting, an HR person came in to present the career development plan she had put together and was in charge of implementing. Our manager is expected to initiate a conversation with each one of us to discuss how to incorporate the dreams and passion of our lives into our career path.

Over the course of the last few years, we’ve been asked to do more and more with less. Some of the important benefits were stripped such as pension and 401K matches. Monthly deductions have been increasing year over year for medical insurances. On top of that, salary has been frozen for 5 years. Not to be cynical, to me this effort of linking meaning to our daily job could mean one of the two things: 1) The job marketing is loosening, 2) For a company that has been on the fence for over a decade, top management’s mentality may be shifting from “You’re lucky to have a job and so stop complaining and start working.” to “We need you to survive. We desperately want you to bring dollars to the bottom line while feeling happy doing it.”

Most of us work for the paycheck, and some work to nurture a hobby or passion outside the job. If you get up everyday excited about going to work, you are one of the few lucky people.

Why don’t people find meaning in their daily job? It could be because we don’t see how our efforts are connected to a worthy cause other than profit generation, and sometimes even that isn’t obvious or recognized; or because we don’t feel valued or simply are bored of repetitive tasks. A strained and contentious relationship with the boss can make things 10 times worse. Unhappy and unmotivated workers are more likely to call in sick, show up late, leave early or put in minimal effort.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely conducted a series of experiments to understand what made people feel good about work. He and his colleagues handed subjects a sheet of paper with randomly typed letters and asked them to circles the same letters next to each other. They paid the people for doing the work but the pay rate decreased with every additional try. For one group, the inspector scanned the paper, said “ah-uh” and then put it in a pile. For the second group, the inspector placed it on top of a pile without examining it. And the last group, the inspector shredded the piece of paper in front of the subject’s eyes without bothering to take a look.

The first group stopped at 15 cents per page and the third gave up at 30 cents. The people of the third group could potentially cheat because they would soon figure out that their work would be destroyed without being checked for accuracy. Surprisingly, the second group stopped almost at the same rate as the third.

In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever. At workplaces, many of us like Sisyphus, have seen our efforts turning into nothing, and yet we are expected to do it over and over again. This can be the major source of job dissatisfaction.

From Ariely’s research, it’s not difficult to conclude that keeping workers continuously motivated isn’t so easy, but shredding one’s effort is incredibly easy. And ignoring is as bad as the act of shredding.

Cake mix was introduced in the 1940s but it wasn’t well received by housewives. People didn’t want it not because it didn’t taste good but because it was too easy to make. The solution? Take eggs and milk out of the powder so that people can honestly say, “I made that cake!” Now cake mix is wildly popular. Ownership and contribution are important for work satisfaction.

I don’t struggle to get up to work. But my job isn’t where my passion is. It has never been. Aside from paycheck, I go to work because of my boss and the people I work with. My boss and I have known each other for over 17 years. He recruited me years ago before Jake was born. He knows I’d never overstep him for personal gains even when the opportunities present themselves. These days when I am pulled in 10 different directions by his boss to generate analytical insight, it always pays to turn to my boss for his insight and advice. Sometimes he’d sit in my cube for hours showing me how to extract data from the various sources and make sense out of them. Even though we don’t get recognitions working for an easy-going and big-hearted man, he is the master of data and a good man.

What makes you feel good about your work? Even though the career development initiative my company is promoting may be short-lived and lacking substance, it’s a worthwhile exercise to look deep into yourself and figure out your dreams and aspirations and find ways to integrate them into your daily living, work, play and parenting.