[We’re pleased to welcome authors Catherine Bailey of King’s College London, Ruth Yeoman of the University of Oxford, Adrian Madden of the University of Greenwich, Marc Thompson of the University of Oxford, and Gary Kerridge of the University of Warwick. They recently published an article in the Human Resource and Development Review entitled “A Review of the Empirical Literature on Meaningful Work: Progress and Research Agenda,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below they reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]
In recent years we have witnessed a growing interest in meaningfulness. As we started to research in the area of meaningful work, we became aware that the literature is quite disparate, with studies published in a wide range of different fields such as sociology, psychology, political theory, ethics, philosophy and theology, but no efforts to bring this all together. In particular, we noticed that there have been a lot of conceptual or theoretical contributions but relatively few empirical studies, so it was difficult to distinguish between opinion and evidence.
We saw a need for a study that reviewed all of the high-quality empirical studies relating to meaningful work and that created a structure around it to enable researchers and practitioners to gain a sense of the extent and quality of the evidence base alongside any gaps in knowledge.
What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research?
A challenge with any evidence review is ensuring that you cast a wide enough net to capture all the relevant studies. This necessitates developing a broad research strategy covering a huge range of literature. The next problem is then sifting through all the many thousands of publications to distil these down until you only include studies that meet a stringent quality threshold.
Were there any surprising findings?
We were surprised that there weren’t more high-quality empirical studies, given the level of interest in the topic, but this creates an opportunity for researchers as many unanswered questions remain.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
Ours is the first comprehensive systematic review of the empirical literature on meaningful work that evaluates the evidence relating to the theories, definitions, antecedents and outcomes of meaningfulness. As such, we hope that it will become a useful point of reference for researchers in the field and help them identify fruitful areas for their own study.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
Meaningful work is a highly topical area at the moment with many new publications coming out all the time in a wide range of journals. For example, there is a special issue on the topic that we have edited that is shortly due to be published in the Journal of Management Studies, and we have also edited an Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work due to be published in 2019. I would urge new scholars in the field to make sure they keep up to date with the new literature and connect with scholars who have similar interests, for example in the International Symposium series on meaningful work that we run which holds biannual events; previous meetings have taken place in Oxford, Auckland and Amsterdam, and the next one will take place in Chicago in 2020.