A Review of the Empirical Literature on Meaningful Work

[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:]

hrda_16_4.coverWhat motivated you to pursue 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.

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How Can Positive Practices in the Workplace Impact Teams?

men-1979261_960_720Dr. Perry Geue recently published an article in  The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, which is entitled “Positive Practices in the Workplace: Impact on Team Climate, Work Engagement, and Task Performance.” We are pleased to welcome Dr. Geue as a contributor and excited to announce that the findings will be free to access on our site for a limited time. Below Dr. Geue provides his insights regarding inspiration behind the research.

JABS_72ppiRGB_powerpointThe research study “Positive Practices in the Workplace: Impact on Team Climate, Work Engagement, and Task Performance” was inspired by an interest in positive work environments, both how they form and their effect in motivating employees toward exceptional performance. Many work environments, such as settings with intense service climates, like the rapidly-paced, routinized food preparation teams in this study, do not readily facilitate employee experiences of freedom, autonomy, and self-expression, which are key factors in employees finding meaning in their work and experiencing well-being in the workplace. A positive work environment, or PWE, is a social climate where employees are treated as positively as possible, one characterized by positive emotions, social inclusion, and quality connections between employees. How do such environments induce employee purpose and  performance in climates that are often hurried and highly structured?

A primary thrust of this study was to delineate how virtuous behaviors in the workplace, termed “positive practices” in the study, could potentially engender a PWE in a demanding service setting, and the effect of this climate on the engagement and performance of employees in work teams. Virtuous behaviors reflect employee actions that are inherently good, apart from instrumental purposes, and they represent the highest aspirations of the human condition. Do workplace behaviors that reflect employees doing good also lead to employees doing well? Can employee behaviors that are respectful, caring, compassionate, forgiving, inspiring, and meaningful in their intent toward others create a climate that is positive and elevating, as well as productive?

Intriguing significant relationships in the study suggest that employees feel more dedicated to and engaged in their work when they sense that work has purpose, significance, and meaning, and that a key to work meaningfulness is mutual interaction that promotes trust, respect, and confidence, where employees believe in each other, communicate the good they see in each other, and forgive each other’s mistakes. In an intensive team service climate, prosocial actions between employees that demonstrate appreciation, affirmation, and respect, could enhance work meaningfulness and lead to greater performance.

The present study impacts the way that managers perceive their role in the workplace. Rather than a posture of correction and control, managers should adopt affirming management practices that contribute to a more positive work environment. Such practices could include managers encouraging team members to exercise optimistic thinking and reinterpret challenges as opportunities, thus granting greater autonomy in creative problem solving, leading to meaningfulness in work. Managers could cultivate a culture of gratitude and appreciation in their work teams, leading team members in mutual respect and acknowledgment of their contributions, expressing thankfulness for accomplishments, and engendering virtuous cycles of honor. Managers could encourage and model forgiveness for miss-steps, engendering a safe psychological climate, viewing mistakes as opportunities for learning, and thus thwarting the blame game that is so demoralizing in the work context. Such positive practices could transform and energize the workplace as employees discover greater value in each other and their work. The potentiality of such a positive work environment is inestimable.

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Workplace Photo attributed to Free-Photos (CC)

The Psychology of Diversity Resistance and Integration

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Christine Wiggins-Romesburg of the University of Louisville and Rod P. Githens of the University of the Pacific. They recently published an article in the Human Resource and Development Review entitled “The Psychology of Diversity Resistance and Integration,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Ms. Wiggins-Romesburg reflects on experiences that inspired this research:]

hrda_16_4.coverIn my prior career as a human resource management practitioner, I worked in a mid-sized corporation where executives were credibly accused of sexual harassment, and it was left to me to address the complaints. I thought that, given the mutual respect I had with the men accused and our shared interest in protecting the organization from lawsuits, I could convince them to discontinue any offensive behavior. Much to my dismay, my efforts resulted in a deepening of biased attitudes and an apparent escalation of harassment that placed the business at increased risk, and ultimately had a negative impact on the careers of the targets and on my own career. I was floored. This experience left me to wonder, “What I could have said or have done differently to produce a better result?”

Although this happened more than ten years ago, today we find countless examples in the media and other recent events where people are called out for their biases and treatment of others. While such behavior may justly earn public condemnation, treating biased individuals this way can be divisive, and provoke defensiveness and shame. As this paper shows, this can increase resistance to change and lessen the chance of a positive outcome.

One possible solution might be taking a softer approach to dealing with biased individuals that is more caring of the needs of those whose behavior we hope to change. This approach is further applicable in situations where the biased individual is in a position of power. The findings were counterintuitive for me personally, and have left me with many more questions that I will continue to investigate.

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HRM and Small-Firm Employee Motivation – Before and After the Great Recession

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Alex Bryson of the University College London and Dr. Michael White Emeritus Fellow at Universty of Westminster.  They recently published an article in the ILR Review entitledHRM and small-firm employee motivation – before and after the Great Recession,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Bryson reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

ILR_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

Controversy surrounds the role of high-performance, or high-involvement, management practices in small firms. Many believe these practices only ‘deliver’ in larger firms. So we wanted to see whether this was the case by looking at links between the intensity of what we term ‘human resource management practices’ and job attitudes among employees in small firms.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

The additional motivation was to establish whether hypothesised links between HRM in small firms and employee job attitudes would differ pre- and post-recession, as some have suggested. So we produce estimates pre- and post-recession.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

The most challenging aspect was replicating similar data sets for 2004 and 2011 given changes in the design of the survey we were using. The surprising result is that findings generally replicate those for larger firms.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

It is innovative because nobody has examined the links between HRM intensity and job attitudes among employees in small firms using large-scale linked employer-employee data.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

Think hard about motivating your analyses based on sound theory and then search or construct good empirical data to test your hypotheses.

 

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Individuals’ Personal Resistance to Change

overcoming-2127669_1920[We’re pleased to welcome author Shaul Oreg of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He recently published an article in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science entitled “Resistance to Change and Performance: Toward a More Even-Handed View of Dispositional Resistance,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Oreg reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

JABS_72ppiRGB_powerpointMy interest in this project derived from my desire to counter the negative view of the resistance to change concept in general, and the notion of individuals’ personal resistance to change more specifically. As a rule, resistance to change is considered to be bad, irrational, and harmful. Accordingly, individuals who are predisposed to resist change are typically viewed in a negative light. They are seen as inferior to those individuals who seek out change and thrive in dynamic environments. This is unfortunate given that there are many situations in our lives in which it is the routine and stable environment that dominates and that requires our attention. We are often required to maintain high levels of motivation and performance in environments that are routine and often monotonous. As such, individuals who shy away from change and prefer routines may actually have an advantage over change-seekers in such stable environments. This is what I set out to demonstrate in this project.

One of the challenges in the project was to devise routine and dynamic environments in the lab that would capture the essence of these environments in real life. Another challenge was obtaining evidence from both laboratory and field settings.

The findings nicely demonstrate both the advantages and disadvantages of dispositional resistance to change in the context of task performance. Whereas high-resistors perform more poorly on dynamic tasks, they outperform their change-loving counterparts when performing routine tasks. Of the four dimensions of the dispositional resistance to change trait, it is the routine-seeking dimension that yields this pattern most consistently.

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Resistance tag photo attributed to NeuPaddy. (CC)

Quitting the Boss? Data on how managers affect voluntary turnover

33772074972_777fae408f_z.jpgResearcher S. Bhattacharya conducted a survey of 10,000 job seekers and found that 42% left their jobs due to dissatisfaction with managers (Bhattacharya 2008). Does this sound like a reason why you left a job you’ve held in the past?

Companies everywhere want to retain the most efficient performers, so what can “bad” managers do to motivate and inspire the current employees to stay? Authors Christopher S. Reina, Kristie M. Rogers, Suzanne J. Peterson, Kris Byron, and Peter W. Hom analyze both positive and negative tactics that managers practice in their recently published article, “Quitting the Boss? The Role of Manager Influence Tactics and Employee Emotional Engagement in Voluntary Turnover.” This article can be found in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, and is currently free to read for a limited time.

Please find the abstract below:

Employees commonly cite their managers’ behavior as the primary reason for quitting their jobs. We sought to extend turnover research by investigating whether two commonly used influence tactics by managers affect their employees’ voluntary turnover and whether employees’ emotional engagement and job satisfaction mediate this relationship. We tested our hypotheses using survey data collected at two time points from a sample of financial services directors and objective lagged turnover data. Using multilevel path modeling, we found that managers’ use of pressure and inspirational appeals had opposite effects on employee voluntary turnover and that employees’ emotional engagement was a significant and unique mediating mechanism even when job satisfaction, the traditional attitudinal predictor of turnover, was also included in the path model. Our findings contribute to turnover research by demonstrating a relationship between specific managerial behaviors and employee turnover and shed light on a key mediating mechanism that explains these effects.

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Game tiles picture attributed to airpix (CC).

Reference
Bhattacharya S. (2008, March). Why people quit. Business Today. Retrieved from http://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/trends/why-people-quit/story/1542.html Google Scholar