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Do You Have One of America’s Most Meaningful Jobs?

Flickr / audio-luci-store.

What constitutes "meaningful" work? Although there are likely many different answers to that question, there seems to be some common threads: doing work that matters, or, as CareerCast opines in a survey on work satisfaction, helping others, and avoiding manual labor.

PayScale recently asked the question, "Does your job make the world a better place?" in order to come up with meaningfulness rankings for more than 450 jobs. Other queries centered on job satisfaction and stress, as well as compensation levels at various times in employees' careers. But the issue of "meaningfulness" was one of the survey's priorities.

Do meaningfulness and job satisfaction go hand in hand? Sometimes, but not necessarily. Some occupations show high levels of perceived meaningfulness, but are low on the satisfaction scale. And, as the CareerCast poll shows, "helping people" can be a measure of both meaning and satisfaction, but performing manual labor most probably is applicable only to the latter metric.

One thing that the survey points out clearly is that pay levels don't seem to enter into the discussion about whether or not a job has meaning – though satisfaction may be another matter.

Flickr / salimfadhley.

Pay levels and meaningfulness
PayScale offers several examples of occupations that are not highly compensated, but register high on the meaningfulness meter. Not surprisingly, clergy and those in charge of religious education score the highest, with a 97% High Meaning score for each of these job groups. Pay isn't great, with median salaries of $45,400 for the former, and $35,900 for the latter.

Surgeons, however, make a median salary of nearly $300,000 per year, and 94% felt the job was very meaningful. Likewise, 92% of anesthesiologists consider their job to be meaningful, while pulling down over $290,000 in annual compensation.

There is the other side of the coin, as well. Administrators in the preschool and child care industry make a median annual salary of only $32,400, while registering a High Meaning score of 89%. Medical appliance technicians make a very modest $37,300 per year, but 88% find lots of meaning in their work.

Low-paying jobs more often seen as not meaningful
At the low end of the meaningfulness scale, though, things look a bit different. Of those reporting the lowest levels of meaningfulness – from 22% to 32%, for instance – nearly all occupations are relatively low-paid.

The only one in this lower tier with a robust compensation level is that of Advertising and Promotions Managers, who make a median yearly salary of $71,000. Interestingly, these employees also have a high job satisfaction level of 71% -- a percentage surpassed only by the 80% reported by Gaming Supervisors.

Where do you fit in?
PayScale's occupational research is quite interesting, and presents some inscrutable results, as well. For instance, I don't find it surprising that health care-oriented jobs would be considered high in meaningfulness. I do think it odd, however, that while surgeons have such high scores in that regard, Licensed Practical Nurses scored only 76%. Personally, I would expect nurses, who are much more involved in patient care, to score much higher.

Poke around the PayScale list – it's very enlightening, to say the least. With the many occupational titles listed, you should be able to find your own job, or something comparable. You, too, may have one of the most meaningful jobs in the nation.

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Amanda Alix

Foolish financial writer since early 2012, striving to demystify the intriguing field of finance -- which, contrary to popular opinion, is truly what makes the world go 'round.

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