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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Reconsidering Virtuality Through a Paradox Lens

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Radostina K. Purvanova of Drake University
and Renata Kenda of Tilburg University. They recently published an article in Group and Organization Management entitled “Paradoxical Virtual Leadership: Reconsidering Virtuality Through a Paradox Lens” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Purvanova speaks about the motivation and impact of this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

The academic literature largely paints virtuality in negative overtones, whereas more and more organizations embrace technology-driven work practices, such as virtual work and virtual teaming. This begs the question: If virtuality is so bad, then why do organizations continue to “go virtual”? Our central motivation in pursuing this research was to advance a new theoretical lens through which to view virtuality – that of paradox. Our paradoxical perspective details both the costs and the benefits that virtuality offers organizations; furthermore, it easily lends itself to practical applications, especially applications in the area of virtual team leadership. In our paper, we discuss how virtual leaders can find synergies between the various challenges and opportunities their virtual teams face. Specifically, our perspective suggests that virtual leaders should blend various, and even contradictory, leadership skills and behaviors, to address virtuality’s competing and paradoxical demands. Hence, our paradoxical virtual leadership model emphasizes the ideas of balance and synergy. This stands in contrast to traditional leadership models, such as transformational, relational, inspirational, and others, which advocate for an increased emphasis on such leadership functions in a virtual context.

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

Our article focuses on three main aspects of virtuality— technology dependence, geographic dispersion, and human capital—and identifies seven paradoxical tensions that virtual teams face. For example, one of the tensions that virtual teams experience due to their technology dependence is the touch tension: virtual team members’ interactions are simultaneously impersonal but also less biased. Practically, then, the role of the virtual team leader is to acknowledge and balance the two sides of this tension (and all other tensions their virtual team might face). Our article provides specific suggestions on how to tackle these paradoxical strains. Briefly, virtual leaders must first adopt a both-and mindset which would allow them to perceive virtuality through a paradox lens, and see both its challenges and its opportunities. Next, virtual leaders must devise strategies for simultaneously addressing competing demands. For example, in the case of the touch tension, a leader can encourage more personal and friendly communication, while at the same time implementing strategies to keep interactions professional.
Practically, then, our model suggests several applications. First, it suggests that organizations should select individuals for virtual leader assignments who are more likely to develop a synergistic leadership style. Second, organizations should train virtual leaders to reframe their assumptions about virtuality, seeing virtuality as a force to be harnessed, not feared. Finally, organizations should also instill a paradoxical view of virtuality in virtual team members, not just in virtual leaders, either through selection, or through training.

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

In keeping with the core question that provoked this research—If virtuality is so bad, then why do organizations continue to “go virtual”?—our advice to virtuality scholars is to focus their efforts on better aligning our science with the practice of virtual work and virtual teaming. Describing just the challenges or just the opportunities of virtuality only tackles one side of this complex issue. In contrast, understanding the interdependencies between virtuality’s costs and benefits allows scholars to advance and test theories with a stronger grounding in reality, and allows organizations to truly harness the power of paradox.

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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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Utilizing Task Analysis to Identify Coordination Requirements in Three different Clinical Settings

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Sarah Henrickson Parker of Virginia Tech, Dr. Jan B. Schmutz of ETH Zürich, and Dr. Tanja Manser of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. They recently published an article in Group and Organization Management entitled “Training Needs for Adaptive Coordination: Utilizing Task Analysis to Identify Coordination Requirements in Three Different Clinical Settings” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Manser speaks about the motivation and challenges of this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

We were interested in understanding general principles of coordination in healthcare teams across different healthcare settings. All of the authors have conducted research in this area for quite some time but usually one study only allows us to study teams in a specific clinical setting. We were interested in seeing if there were any general principles that applied across clinical settings. If so, these could have a much larger impact on the training of healthcare professionals.

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

As this was a secondary analysis of existing data, we each had our own challenges with the initial data collection. It is always fun, exciting and challenging to work with healthcare providers in both real and simulated settings. One exciting finding of the current study is the overlap in coordination requirements across clinical settings and tasks. Triggers for re-coordination, anchoring points for coordination, and a deliberate transition from implicit to explicit coordination during unexpected clinical situations were all consistently noted as exemplars of excellent team coordination.

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

It is important to immerse yourself in the work context you are studying and to continue to build relationships with those that are doing the work. We believe that the interactions with healthcare providers allow us, as psychologists, to make sure our work is interpreted correctly from a scientific point of view but also relevant and used as intended from an applied point of view. Our experience this requires researchers to be able to speak the language of both clinical care and work psychology.

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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:]

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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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The Relationships Between Stress, Drinking, and Complaints at Work

stress-2051408_1920[We’re pleased to welcome authors Jeremy D. Mackey of Auburn University and Pamela L. Perrewé of Florida State University. They recently published an article in the Group and Organization Management entitled “The Relationships Between Hindrance Stressors, Problem Drinking, and Somatic Complaints at Work” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Mackey speaks about the motivation and challenges of this research:]

GOM_72ppiRGB_powerpointPam Perrewé and I were excited to publish our paper entitled “The Relationships between Hindrance Stressors, Problem Drinking, and Somatic Complaints at Work” in Group & Organization Management. We were motivated to conduct our study on the indirect effects of hindrance stressors on somatic complaints at work through problem drinking because we were interested in examining the impact of problem drinking on organizational stress processes. Our conceptualization of problem drinking examines alcohol consumption that is personally and/or socially harmful. Although problem drinking has been widely studied in psychology research, its effects have yet to be fully illuminated in organizational research. Thus, we sought to examine the effects of perceptions of workplace obstacles (i.e., hindrance stressors) on physiological strain (i.e., somatic complaints at work) through problem drinking. We hope our innovative conceptualization of problem drinking as a self-medication coping mechanism impacts research and practice by encouraging researchers and practitioners to examine the role of employees’ attempts to cope with organizational stress by engaging in problem drinking.

The most challenging aspect of conducting our study was how to appropriately examine problem drinking in organizational contexts. Problem drinking is a sensitive topic and there is little precedent for how to appropriately study it in organizational settings. Ultimately, we opted to examine employees’ frequencies of problem drinking because it was appropriate for our research question and study design. We recommend that other scholars who pursue this field of study consider the numerous ways of measuring problem drinking in order to choose appropriate ways to measure it for their research goals. For example, examining quantities of alcohol consumed, drinking to intoxication, the frequency/intensity of experienced hangovers, and problem drinking within the workplace all offer useful ways for future research to examine problem drinking and assess its effects on groups and organizations.

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Running photo attributed to geralt. (CC)