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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A Good Living Versus A Good Life

How can HRD help ensure a meaningful and purposeful life for employees in the workplace? Neal Chalofsky and Liz Cavallaro, both of George Washington University explored this question in their study, “A Good Living Versus A Good Life: Meaning, Purpose and HRD,” forthcoming in Advances in Developing Human Resources and now available in the journal’s OnlineFirst section:

The Problem.

The expectation for meaningful work and work–life integration is firmly entrenched in the minds of the GenerationY/Millennial generations in the workplace. Yet, in updating the literature and rethinking the impact on Chalofsky’s (2003) construct for meaningful work, the question arose as to whether meaningful work can and should exist in a vacuum or should it be viewed as part of a meaningful life. If so, what are the implications for the construct and for human resource development (HRD). How far can and should HRD go to help ensure a meaningful and purposeful life for present and future generations in the workplace?

The Solution.2ADHR06.qxd

This article provides a sketch of the current research and thinking about meaningful work and a basis for the rest of the articles in this issue. The tightness of the “fit” between self and work can determine how meaningful one’s work is perceived. How work fits within a meaningful life, and how one’s life fits within the context of the organization, the community, the society, and the planet can shape a meaningful existence.

The Stakeholders.

The intended audience for this article includes HRD scholars, scholar-practitioners, consultants, and students interested in the construct of meaningful work, and the implications of reframing HRD around meaning and purpose.

Continue reading the paper online in in Advances in Developing Human Resources, and sign up for e-alerts so you don’t miss out on new articles like this one.

A Passion for Work: Part 4 of 5

Part Four: How Meaningful Is Your Work?

In the Ken Blanchard definition of work passion that we highlighted in Part One, “meaningful work” is the first of the eight factors responsible for driving passion. Today we bring you a Group & Organization Management article that presents a scale for measuring meaningful work, also explaining its relation to the concepts of “calling”; “intrinsic motivation”; “work engagement” and “work values”:

In this article we build on two in-depth qualitative studies to systematically develop and validate a comprehensive measure of meaningful work. This scale provides a multidimensional, process-oriented measure of meaningful work that captures the complexity of the construct. It measures the dimensions of “developing the inner self”; “unity with others”; “serving others” and “expressing GOM_72ppiRGB_150pixwfull potential” and the dynamic tensions between these through items on “being versus doing” and “self versus others.” The scale also measures inspiration and its relationship to the existential need to be real and grounded. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses using multicultural samples from a broad range of occupations provide construct validity for the measure. Future research opportunities on the basis of our measure are outlined.

Click here to read “Measuring the Meaning of Meaningful Work: Development and Validation of the Comprehensive Meaningful Work Scale (CMWS),” published by Marjolein Lips-Wiersma and Sarah Wright, both of the University of Canterbury, in the GOM October 2012 issue.