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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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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70-20-10 and the Dominance of Informal Learning

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Alan Clardy of Towson University. Dr. Clardy recently published an article in the Human Resource and Development Review entitled “70-20-10 and the Dominance of Informal Learning: A Fact in Search of Evidence,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Clardy reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

hrda_16_4.cover

What motivated you to pursue this research?

I reviewed the recent book “Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent” for Personnel Psychology a few years ago. In that book, mention was made in an off-handed factual way at several points to a 70-20-10 rule. I had two reactions: I wasn’t that familiar with that rule, and I started to wonder where the original data could be found. I found myself wanting to see the original studies but the more I looked, the more disappointed I became. Then I wanted to discover where this 70-20-10 “fact” really came from.

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

As I note my article, the literature on this matter is scattered and not particularly integrated. So back-tracking through citations, then finding the original sources became a chore at times. Perhaps the biggest challenge was looking through these original studies to see if they mentioned at 70% rule and/or presented any data for a 70% rule.

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

It was not uniquely innovative but doing a search for root data in a dispersed literature is somewhat distinctive. Even though I’m sure I did not identify every instance in which a 70-20-10 rule has been noted, I am pleased that I was able to identify as much as I did and then to organize and report it in a more coherent and connected manner.

My academic grounding in HRD has a strong foundation in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Interestingly, the chapters on employee training and development in all standard I/O textbooks and, as I’m recalling, texts on Organization Behavior do not cover, much less mention informal learning experiences. I/O texts, for example, focus almost exclusively on formal training. It would be a mistake to conclude from my paper that I disagree with the notion that much learning about job and work occurs “informally”. Rather, there is a great deal of evidence that much learning does occur “informally”. What I was objecting to was the dogmatic and unqualified assertion that 70% of job/work of all learning happens informally. So, if my article could help generate coverage of “informal” learning in I/O and OB texts, I think that would be a beneficial impact on all of these fields. I do call for more research on how to structure various kinds of “informal” learning venues to improve their effectiveness; seeing more of that would also be a positive impact.

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Creative Problem Solving Training: What Works?

4769744435_1985998a32_z (3)[We’re pleased to welcome David Vernon of Cantebury Christ Church University. David recently published an article in Human Resource Development Review entitled “An Evidence-Based Review of Creative Problem Solving Tools: A Practitioner’s Resource” with co-authors Ian Hocking and Tresoi C. Tyler.]

  • What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

My colleague, Dr Ian Hocking, and I were interested in the nature of creative problem solving and how, if at all, this could be facilitated or improved by using a structured thinking tool. With the help of Tresoi Tyler we began a systematic search of the literature to explore and identify the various tools that have been used to enhance some aspect of creative problem solving. We then focused our search to examine precisely which tools have some/any evidence to support their use. In essence, we wanted to know which tools have been shown to work.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Yes. I think the aspect of our work that surprised us all was the mismatch between the Current Issue Covernumber, availability and use of creative problem solving tools and their empirical basis. This gave rise to what we referred to as ‘the plethora and the paucity’ – which simply meant that the plethora of available tools was matched only by the paucity of research showing that they had any real benefit.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

In terms of practice we hope this will have two effects. First, our review will provide practitioners with a clear understanding of which tools have been shown to benefit a particular stage of creative problem solving. In this sense, we hope that it will serve as a useful resource. Second, we hope that this encourages practitioners to ask what we consider to be an essential question when faced with using any creative problem solving tool: ‘What is the evidence that this works?’

In terms of future research, again there are two directions we think our work can have some impact. First, we have provided in the review an outline of which tools seem to work at the various stages within creative problem solving. However, this work needs to be continued to ascertain the broader benefits of using such tools. For instance, such tools can be explored using a variety of different problem types and levels of training, as well as looking at long-term benefits and transfer effects. Second, many tools have little or no empirical support. This doesn’t mean they don’t work, of course. It may reflect the fact that no one has looked. Moving forward, we would hope that our review stimulates researchers to examine the possible benefits these tools.

The abstract for the paper:

Creative problem solving (CPS) requires solutions to be useful and original. Typically, its operations span problem finding, idea generation, and critical evaluation. The benefits of training CPS have been extolled in education, industry, and government with evidence showing it can enhance performance. However, although such training schemes work, less is known about the specific tools used. Knowing whether a particular tool works or not would provide practitioners with a valuable resource, leading to more effective training schemes, and a better understanding of the processes involved. A comprehensive review was undertaken examining the empirical support of tools used within CPS. Despite the surprising lack of research focusing on the use and success of specific tools, some evidence exists to support the effectiveness of a small set. Such findings present practitioners with a potential resource that could be used in a stand-alone setting or possibly be combined to create more effective training programs.

You can read “An Evidence-Based Review of Creative Problem Solving Tools: A Practitioner’s Resource” from Human Resource Development Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research from Human Resource Development ReviewClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Image attributed to Reilly Butler (CC)

Critical Reflection: Real Life Applications for Mezirow’s Theory

14488224787_79c11e5287_z[We are pleased to welcome Henriette Lundgren. Henriette published an article in Human Resource Development Review entitled “On Critical Reflection: A Review of Mezirow’s Theory and its Operationalization,” with co-author Rob F. Poell.]

  • What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

To stop and think is considered good practice in most professional contexts. For example, we expect a nurse to review the patient’s symptoms before administering a medicine. Similarly, we expect an entrepreneur to examine the underlying market assumptions before venturing into a new business idea. Rather than rushing into glib problem solving or thoughtless decision-making, we believe that everybody needs to take some moments from time to time to reflect: What is the situation? How can I HRDdeal with it? Why is this important to me? To stop and think is another very basic way of describing the process of reflection, but how do we know whether someone is really reflecting – critically or not – about one’s own practice? This question triggered our literature review using Jack Mezirow’s critical reflection definition as a starting point.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Reflection and non-reflection come in many shades, for example “habitual action”, “thoughtful action”, “understanding”, “introspection”, “intensive reflection” or “critical reflection. Researchers in adult education and human resource development (HRD) have made a sincere effort to distinguish between these shades of reflection in their empirical studies. Maybe our mind was more binary before we started this project: “Reflection yes/no”. So being shown indicators that help us operationalize reflection in our own empirical research was a pleasant side effect of this study.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

Our study gives an overview on critical reflection research and its operationalization, and it points out four areas of improvement (see checklist at the end of article). Critics might say that we could have taken more efforts to show explicitly the connections between critical reflection and learning and how our work impacts HRD theory, research, and practice. While these are good avenues for future research, we encourage readers to help us think along what our findings mean for learning and development of nurses, teachers and entrepreneurs, and we look forward to continuing this conversation and debate.

The abstract for the paper:

In this article, we review empirical studies that research critical reflection based on Mezirow’s definition. The concepts of content, process, and premise reflection have often been cited, and operationalizing Mezirow’s high-level transformative learning theory and its components has been the endeavor of adult education and human resource development (HRD) researchers. By conducting a literature review, we distill 12 research studies on critical reflection that we dissect, analyze, and compare. Discovering different approaches, assessment processes, and outcomes leads us to the conclusion that there is little agreement on how to operationalize reflection. We suggest four improvements: (a) integrating different critical reflection traditions, (b) using multiple data collection pathways, (c) opting for thematic embedding, and (d) attending to feelings. By implementing these improvements, we hope to stimulate closer alignment of approaches in critical reflection research across adult education and HRD researchers.

You can read “On Critical Reflection: A Review of Mezirow’s Theory and its Operationalization” from Human Resource Development Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research Podcast Microphonefrom Human Resource Development Review? Click here to sign up for e-alertsYou can also listen to a podcast with author Henriette Lundgren as she discusses her work on this article. You can listen to the podcast here.

*Image attributed to Kent Nguyen (CC)

HenrietteHenriette Lundgren is a workplace educator and an associated researcher with Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Her main scholarly interests are learning in the workplace, the use of reflection instruments, and adult education theory.

Rob

Rob F. Poell is a professor of human resource development (HRD) in the Department of Human Resource Studies at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. His main scholarly interests are learning in the workplace, action learning, project-based learning, organizing HRD, and learning networks.

New Podcast: Henriette Lundgren on Mezirow’s Theory and Its Operationalization

Podcast MicrophoneIn the latest podcast from Human Resource Development Review, Henriette Lundgren discusses the article she co-authored with Rob Poell entitled, “On Critical Reflection: A Review of Mezirow’s Theory and Its Operationalization,” which was recently published in the March 2016 issue of Human Resource Development Review.

You can find the podcast on the Human Resource Development Review website here, or click here to download the podcast. You can also read the full article free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

The abstract:

In this article, we review empirical studies that research critical reflection based on Mezirow’s definition. The concepts of content, process, and premise reflection have often been cited, and operationalizing Mezirow’s high-level transformative learning theory and its components has been the endeavorHRD.jpg of adult education and human resource development (HRD) researchers. By conducting a literature review, we distill 12 research studies on critical reflection that we dissect, analyze, and compare. Discovering different approaches, assessment processes, and outcomes leads us to the conclusion that there is little agreement on how to operationalize reflection. We suggest four improvements: (a) integrating different critical reflection traditions, (b) using multiple data collection pathways, (c) opting for thematic embedding, and (d) attending to feelings. By implementing these improvements, we hope to stimulate closer alignment of approaches in critical reflection research across adult education and HRD researchers.

Want to hear more podcast like this? Click here to browse more podcasts from Human Resource Development Review, and here to subscribe to the SAGE Management and Business podcast channel on iTunes. You can also sign up for e-alerts and get notifications of all the latest research from Human Resource Development Review sent directly to your inbox!


 

Henriette Lundgren is a workplace educator and an associated researcher with Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Her main scholarly interests are learning in the workplace, the use of reflection instruments, and adult education theory.