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Meaningful Work is Healthy Work

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CHAPTER
1 0
Meaningful Work is
Healthy Work
PAUL FAIRLIE
The last decade has seen a urry of activity in academic and business circles on the topic
of meaningful work. Several studies have explored the meaning of work (Ardichvili &
Kuchinke, 2009; Flesher, 2009; Kuchinke, 2009). Both callings (Dik, Duffy & Eldridge,
2009) and sensemaking in the workplace (Wrzesniewski, Dutton & Debebe, 2003) have
been explored. Forms of leadership (Lawler, 2005; Luthans & Avolio, 2003) and leadership
communication (Ashman & Lawler, 2008) have been inspired by existential psychology
and other meaning-based areas of inquiry. The growing interest in meaningful work has
prompted several recent literature reviews on the topic (Rosso, Dekas & Wrzesniewski,
2010; Steger & Dik, 2005).
Themes of meaningful work have also appeared in best-selling books aimed at
the general public (Crawford, 2009; Dyer, 2005; Leider, 2010; Waddington, 2007) and
management (Pink, 2009; Sanders, 2008; Sinek, 2009; Ulrich, Ulrich & Goldsmith,
2010). Even stalwart business publications such as Harvard Business Review (Amabile
& Kramer, 2010; Ashkanas, 2011; Erickson, 2011; Haque, 2012), Ivey Business Journal
(Ulrich & Ulrich, 2010), McKinsey Quarterly (Amabile & Kramer, 2012) and MIT Sloan
Management Review (Michaelson, 2010) have run features on meaningful work. At the
time of writing, there were over ve million hits for “meaningful work” on Google.
com.
Despite the recent attention that it has garnered, meaningful work is in danger
of becoming a passing fad. This would be regrettable, given the growing number of
people that are reporting needs for interesting and socially-useful work on national
surveys (Davis, Smith & Marsden, 2009). Perhaps because of unmet needs, a growing
number of people may also be withdrawing from work as a meaningful life pursuit.
Levels of work centrality (England, 1991; Twenge, Campbell, Hoffman & Lance, 2010)
and work ethic (Highhouse, Zickar & Yankelevich, 2010; Weaver, 1997) have been
slipping for decades.
What is needed to sustain interest in this area is more rigorous research on the
nature and effects of meaningful work. First, meaningful work constructs must be clearly
operationalized and informed by theories and models of psychological meaning (see
Baumeister, 1991). Second, these variables should demonstrate criterion and incremental
validity as predictors of important employee outcomes. Some research currently exists,
Fairlie, P. (2013). Meaningful work is
healthy work. In R. J. Burke & C. L.
Cooper (Eds.), The fulfilling
workplace: The organization's role in
achieving individual and
organizational health (pp. 187-205).
Surrey, England:Gower Publishing.
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188 The Fulfilling Workplace
with narrow features of meaningful work having been linked to work engagement (May,
Gilson & Harter, 2004; Stringer, 2008), general employee attitudes (Chalofsky & Krishna,
2009; ter Doest, Maes & Gebhardt, 2006; Edwards & Cable, 2009) and performance
(Duchon & Plowman, 2005; Grant, 2008). Some aspects of meaningful work have also
been experimentally-linked to productivity (Ariely, Kamenica & Prelec, 2008).
The current chapter considers a multi-dimensional model of meaningful work in
the context of employee well-being. Specically, this chapter reviews three studies on
observed relationships among meaningful work characteristics and depression, anxiety,
stress, burnout, physical health, mental health and work engagement (Fairlie, 2010;
2011). These relationships were considered in the context in other, more well-known
work characteristics. While many work characteristics have been connected to well-
being (Karasek & Theorell, 1990; Siegrist, 2002; Warr, 1994), work characteristics that are
aligned with dimensions of psychological meaning have received scant attention. It is
hoped that the ndings will support meaningful work as a neglected and under-utilized
resource in the promotion and maintenance of employee well-being. This is a laudable
aim, given the costs associated with employee mental health problems (Goetzel, Long,
Ozminkowski, Hawkins, Wang & Lynch, 2004; Johnston, Westereld, Momin, Phillipi &
Naidoo, 2009; Kessler, Barber, Birnbaum, Frank, Greenberg, Rose & Wang, 1999).
What is Meaningful Work?
In psychology, discussions of meaning often entail issues of “life meaning, purpose, and
coherence” (Ryff, 2000, p. 132). Additionally, “…having meaning is viewed as a feature of
optimal human functioning, which involves having goals, being engaged, and possessing
inner strength in the face of life’s obstacles. But to live without meaning is to experience
despair, alienation, and confusion” (Ryff, 2000, p. 132). Baumeister (1991) identied four
main needs for meaning: purpose (including goals and fulllments), values, efcacy and
self-worth.
While there are individual differences in what people nd meaningful, a number
of researchers have identied several convergent themes (see Table 10.1). These include
having purpose, values and goals, spirituality, relationships, service, autonomy,
commitment, challenge, achievement, competence and self-realization (for example,
Antonovsky, 1990; Baumeister, 1991; Ebersole, 1998; Emmons, 1999; Frankl, 1992;
Kobasa, 1979; Maslow, 1970; Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003; Ryan & Deci, 2000;
Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Wong, 1998). Many of these themes are inherent in personal strivings
(Emmons, 1991), current concerns (Klinger, 1998), personal projects (Little, 1983), life
longings (Kotter-Grühn, Wiest, Zurek & Scheibe, 2009), self-determination (Ryan & Deci,
2000) and conceptions of the ‘good life’ (King & Napa, 1998).1
Meaningful work is subsequently dened as job and other workplace characteristics
that facilitate the attainment or maintenance of one or more dimensions of meaning
(see Fairlie, 2010). In other words, meaningful work pertains to work characteristics that
would appear to foster one or more of the dimensions found in Table 10.1. The concept
of meaningful work is not new. Both Maslow (1965) and Alderfer (1972) described work
1 Some of this research does not focus on meaning, per se. However, many of these constructs tend to overlap with
dimensions found within models of meaning (for example, Ebersole, 1998; Wong, 1998).
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189Meaningful Work is Healthy Work
characteristics that promote self-actualization. McGregor (1960) described work that
allows the expression of imagination, ingenuity and creativity. “Motivator factors”
in Herzberg’s (1966) Motivator-Hygiene Theory have been identied elsewhere as
meaningful work factors. Locke (1976) argued that job satisfaction is an outcome of
doing what is personally valued. Finally, meaningfulness of work is a component of
the Job Characteristics Model (Hackman & Oldham, 1975). Despite the long history of
meaningful work concepts, few of these concepts are represented in models and measures
of work characteristics (for example, Balzer, Kihm, Smith, Irwin, Bachiochi, Robie, Sinar
& Parra, 2000; Campion & Thayer, 1985; Gay, Weiss, Hendel, Dawis & Lofquist, 1971;
Parker & Wall, 1998; Moos, 1981; Spector, 1997).
The Rationale for Meaningful Work
There is a strong case for meaningful work as a condition for employee well-being. This
rests on abundant research on the role of perceived meaning in well-being. For example,
the fulllment of basic needs has repeatedly been associated with well-being outcomes
(for example, autonomy, competence and relatedness; Ryan & Deci, 2000, 2001; Tay &
Diener, 2011). These same needs are similar to dimensions found in models of meaning
(Ebersole, 1998; Emmons, 1999; Wong, 1998). Additionally, having a sense of life purpose
(McKnight & Kashdan, 2009), goal pursuit (Diener, Suh, Lucas & Smith, 1999; Ryan &
Deci, 2001), authentic goal pursuit (Brunstein, Schultheiss & Grässmann, 1998; Sheldon &
Elliot, 1999) and autonomy (Fischer & Boer, 2011) have been related to positive well-
being states.
Meaning has also been viewed as a component of well-being. The dimensions of
psychological well-being forwarded by Ryff and Keyes (1995) are similar to commonly-
found dimensions of meaning (for example, Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964; Ebersole,
1998; Emmons, 1999; Wong, 1998). Well-being has also been described as both hedonic
(that is, affective) and eudaimonic (that is, meaning-based; Lent, 2004; Ryan & Deci, 2001).
The World Health Organization (2004) denes mental health, in part, by self-realization
and service to one’s community. These are common dimensions of meaning (Ebersole,
1998; Emmons, 1999; Maslow, 1970; Wong, 1998). Seligman (2011) views meaning and
purpose as components of well-being. Finally, Keyes (2007) has shown that high levels
of subjective well-being and meaning (that is, “ourishing”) are associated with more
positive mental health outcomes than high levels of subjective well-being alone. Thus,
extent relationships among meaning and well-being states suggest that meaningful work
may be a valuable resource for promoting and maintaining employee well-being.
Measuring Meaningful Work
The research in this chapter involved the Meaningful Work Inventory (MWI;
Fairlie, 2010), which is a comprehensive employee survey of evidence-based work
characteristics linked to employee outcomes, together with work characteristics that
are aligned with models of psychological meaning. The MWI contains over 30 specic
work characteristics scales and the following eight global work characteristics scales:
Meaningful Work, Leadership and Organizational Features, Supervisory Relationships,
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190 The Fulfilling Workplace
Coworker Relationships, Intrinsic Rewards, Extrinsic Rewards, Organizational Support,
and Work Demands and Balance (see Table 10.2). Reliability and validity information is
available elsewhere (Fairlie, 2010, 2011, 2012).
While each global scale contains varying amounts of meaningful work content, the
Meaningful Work global scale is perhaps most aligned with dimensions of meaning. It
contains four facets: Self-Actualizing Work (realizing one’s full potential, purpose, values
and goals through one’s job and organization), Social Impact (having a positive impact
on people and things through one’s job and organization), Personal Accomplishment
(feelings of personal accomplishment from one’s job) and Career Advancement (belief
that one can achieve one’s highest career goals in one’s current organization).
Meaningful Work and Well-Being: Current Research
What are the relationships among meaningful work characteristics and dimensions
of well-being? What is the case for increasing levels of meaningful work as a way of
promoting and maintaining healthy workplaces? The author conducted three studies
to explore these relationships (Fairlie, 2010, 2011), two of which were undertaken to
develop and validate the MWI (Fairlie, 2010). The following are capsule summaries from
these studies.
DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY DAYS
Fairlie (2010) examined over 30 specic work characteristics as correlates of depression
and anxiety days in a national sample of 1,477 full-time, working Americans.2 The
sample was mostly female (67 percent), non-management (59 percent), with one to less
than ten years of tenure (57 percent) and educated at the university certicate or diploma
level or higher (53 percent). The mean age was 48.30 (SD = 11.25). The participants
were members of a paid, online panel. In addition to perceived work characteristics,
participants were asked to report the number of days over the past month that they
experienced symptoms of depression (“sad, blue, or depressed”) and anxiety (“worried,
tense, or anxious;”)(Hennessy, Moriarty, Zack, Scherr & Brackbill, 1994; Moriarty, Zack &
Kobau, 2003).
Some of the stronger correlates of depression and anxiety days were work
characteristics aligned with one or more dimensions of meaning. This included most
facets of the Meaningful Work global scale (that is, Self-Actualizing Work, Social Impact,
Career Advancement). Met Job Expectations (that is, employers keep their pre-hire
promises to employees) was the strongest correlate of anxiety days. It is also thematically-
linked to authenticity (Harter, 2002). Work Enjoyment (that is, job tasks and activities are
enjoyable) was the strongest correlate of depression days. This, along with Skill Utilization,
relate to themes of being fully committed (Kobasa, 1979), engaged (Nakamura &
Csikszentmihalyi, 2003) and challenged (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Kobasa, 1979). Job
Autonomy relates to perceiving autonomy and control in one’s life (for example, Ryan &
2 The eight MWI global work characteristics scales could not be computed in this study because several within-scale
items were administered across different surveys to different participants.
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191Meaningful Work is Healthy Work
Deci, 2000; Ryff & Keyes, 1995). Skill Utilization and Job Autonomy were also correlates
of both outcomes.
Several of the strongest meaningful work correlates appeared to suggest the importance
of self-transcendence through one’s work. Big Picture Connection pertains to seeing one’s
job as connected to the greater goals and direction of the organization. This harks to being
connected in broader relationships (Ebersole, 1998; Ryff & Keyes, 1995), generativity
or service (Ebersole, 1998; Emmons, 1999) and perhaps attachment to some surrogate,
higher power (for example, spirituality and religion; Emmons, 1999; Wong, 1998). Both
Job-Induced Strengths (that is, job enables one to discover one’s strengths) and Growth
and Development are related to personal growth dimensions of meaning (Maslow, 1970;
Ryff & Keyes, 1995). In short, perceptions of meaningful work characteristics in one’s job
and organization are associated with less frequent reports of mood problems.3
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH DAYS
Global work characteristics were examined in the context of both physical and mental
health days in a second national sample of 1,000 full-time, working Americans (Fairlie,
2010). The modal prole was female (56 percent), non-management (59 percent) and
with one to less than ve years of tenure (38 percent). The mean age was 42.60 (SD =
11.15). The participants were members of a paid, online panel. Participants were asked to
report the number of days over the past month that their physical health (that is, physical
illness, injury) and mental health (that is, stress, depression, emotional problems) were
“not good” (Hennessy, Moriarty, Zack, Scherr & Brackbill, 1994).
In general, relationships among work characteristics and physical health days were
not substantive. The temporal lags and distal gaps between perceived work characteristics
and physical health outcomes are likely considerable. Work characteristics had stronger
associations with mental health days, including Work Demands and Balance (r = -.44,
p < .001) followed by Meaningful Work (r = -.35, p < .001). In a multiple regression
analysis, the eight MWI global work characteristics accounted for 25 percent of the
variance in mental health days (F(8, 731) = 30.53, p <.001). Both Meaningful Work,
β = -.24, t(731) = -4.61, p < .001 and Work Demands and Balance, β = -.41, t(731) = -9.04,
p < .001, remained signicant in the equation. Thus, despite the sizable effect of Work
Demands and Balance, Meaningful Work appears to have a unique role in the frequency
of mental health complaints. In summary, perceptions of meaningful work characteristics
were associated with less frequent reports of mental health problems.
WORK ENGAGEMENT, BURNOUT AND NEGATIVE MOOD
Fairlie (2011) also explored the role of meaningful work characteristics in the context of
work engagement (Schaufeli, Bakker & Salanova, 2006), disengagement (Demerouti &
Bakker, 2008), exhaustion (as a dimension of burnout; Demerouti & Bakker, 2008), and
stress and depression symptoms (Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995). The participants were 574
American and Canadians who were at least part-time employed. They were mostly female
(71 percent), full-time employed or self-employed (93 percent) and in a supervisory or
management position (63 percent). The mean age was 46.42 (SD = 10.42). The participants
3 Work Demands and Work-Life Balance were also strong correlates of anxiety days.
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192 The Fulfilling Workplace
were invited to complete a brief, web-based measure of emotional intelligence, followed
by the survey battery for the current study in exchange for feedback scores on some
measures.
Work engagement is not often construed as an employee well-being variable. Yet, the
content of some work engagement variables overlaps with adjustment variables (Schaufeli,
Bakker & Salanova, 2006). The vigor dimension of work engagement contains affective
features. Additionally, (and conversely) circumplex models have identied engagement
components within positive affect (Lucas, Diener & Larsen, 2003). Engagement concepts
have also been included in emerging models of well-being (Seligman, 2011). Finally, the
commitment dimension of hardiness, a personality variable linked to well-being, suggests
a full engagement in one’s situations and experiences (Kobasa, 1979).
All MWI global work characteristics signicantly correlated with all of the well-being
outcomes listed above (r’s = |.27| to |.77|, all p < .001). Meaningful Work had the strongest
correlations of any global scale with work engagement (r = .77) and disengagement
(r = -.77). It was tied with Intrinsic Rewards as the strongest correlate of depression
symptoms (r = -.46). Next to Work Demands and Balance, Meaningful Work also had the
second strongest correlation with Exhaustion (r = -.52). Meaningful Work had weaker
relative relationships with stress symptoms. In select multiple regression analyses, global
work characteristics accounted for substantive amounts of variance in work engagement
[59 percent; F(8, 398) = 71.60, p <.001], exhaustion [43 percent; F(8, 401) = 38.42 p <.001]
and depression symptoms [29 percent; F(8, 406) = 20.30, p <.001]. In each case, Meaningful
Work had a signicant effect while controlling for other global work characteristics.
Meaningful Work was also the strongest unique predictor of engagement, β = .64,
t(398) = 12.64, p < .001. Work Demands and Balance had a unique effect on exhaustion
and depression symptoms, but not work engagement. Thus, perceptions of meaningful
work appear to gure prominently in the levels of several well-being variables, particularly
work engagement.
General Discussion
The results of three studies suggest that meaningful work plays a substantive role
in employee well-being outcomes. For example, work characteristics that promote
meaning appear more likely than other work characteristics, when absent, to be
associated with more frequent, negative mood states (that is, depression and anxiety
days). Meaningful work characteristics had the strongest relationships, compared to
other work characteristics, with work engagement and disengagement. These same work
characteristics also had substantive relationships with mental health days, exhaustion
and depression symptoms. An absence of psychological meaning in life, in general, has
long been tied to depression (Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964; Mascaro & Rosen, 2008;
Ryff, 1989). Moreover, regression results suggest that the effects of meaningful work on
mental health days, work engagement, exhaustion, and depression symptoms are not
accounted for by other, more well-known work characteristics. Thus, it would appear that
when individuals occupy jobs with greater perceived opportunities for self-actualization
(including purpose, values and goal alignment), social impact, personal accomplishment
and career advancement, they experience higher levels of positive well-being and lower
levels of negative well-being.
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193Meaningful Work is Healthy Work
Meaningful work may play an exceptionally formative role in levels of work
engagement. The strong link found between these variables echoes past ndings,
particularly those showing meaningful work characteristics as the strongest unique
predictors of work engagement (May, Gilson & Harter, 2004; Stringer, 2008). A number of
psychological mechanisms may account for this link. For example, individuals who see
their jobs as enabling them to realize their full potential, purpose, values and goals, may
be better aligned or “tted” to their jobs. Work–role t has been repeatedly linked to work
engagement (Crawford, Lepine & Rich, 2010; May, Gilson & Harter, 2004). Grant and
Sonnetag (2010) found that pro-social impacts buffer the effects of doing negative tasks
on levels of work engagement. Given the long history of work engagement (Kahn, 1990)
and the great deal of research that it has spawned (Bakker & Leiter, 2010; Christian, Garza
& Slaughter, 2011; Shuck, 2011), it is ironic that meaningful work should only recently
come to the fore as a prominent factor in this employee outcome.
GENERAL IMPLICATIONS
The reviewed studies suggest that the presence of meaningful work is related to several
well-being outcomes. These results have implications not only for employee health, but
also organizational performance. Work engagement, for example, has been repeatedly
linked to employee performance (Christian, Garza & Slaughter, 2011; Rich, Lepine &
Crawford, 2010) and organizational performance (Salanova, Agut & Peiro, 2005;
Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti & Schaufeli, 2009). Burnout has been linked to poor
employee health (Shirom, Melamed, Toker, Berliner & Shapira, 2005), absenteeism (Lee &
Ashforth, 1996), lower work performance (Wright & Bonett, 1997) and turnover (Wright &
Cropanzano, 1998), all of which affect organizational performance.
Additionally, there is a mounting need to understand sources of workplace depression.
A growing body of research demonstrates a signicant role for emotions (Ashkanasy &
Ashton-James, 2005), and particularly positive affect (Ashkanasy & Ashton-James, 2007)
in organizational behavior. Positive affect is related to work performance (Wright &
Staw, 1994, 1999) and various forms of creativity and productivity (Fredrickson, 2001).
A lack of positive affect is also a diagnostic feature of depression (American Psychiatric
Association, 1994). Depression, itself, is associated with cognitive, motivational, and
behavioral decits (Austin, Mitchell & Goodwin, 2001) which can eventually affect
work performance (Kessler, 2008). Depressed employees are costly, losing up to 3.2 more
days per month than other workers, and leading to productivity losses of up to $395 per
employee per month (Kessler, Barber, Birnbaum, Frank, Greenberg, Rose & Wang, 1999).
Overall, the impact of depression on productivity is well-documented (Simon, Barber,
Birnbaum, Frank, Greenberg, Rose, Wang & Kessler, 2001; Stefck, Fortney, Smith &
Pyne, 2006).
In short, given the relationships that were found among meaningful work
characteristics and well-being outcomes in the current studies, and among employee
well-being outcomes and organizational performance found elsewhere, it would appear
that employers could benet in tangible ways from the promotion and maintenance of
meaningful work in their organizations.
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194 The Fulfilling Workplace
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS
The results have several practical implications for employers and organizational
consultants. First, meaningful work characteristics should be measured on employee
surveys (for example, self-actualizing work, social impact, personal accomplishment,
career advancement). Additionally, relationships among these work characteristics and
employee well-being outcomes should be examined in employee survey data to conrm
the importance of these work characteristics within specic organizations.
Second, employees could be made aware of meaningful work characteristics that are
already present in their jobs and organizations. Employee perceptions of the availability
of meaningful work may be inaccurate (see Spector, 1992). For example, opportunities for
meaningful work may exist ‘unused’ in formal job descriptions. Additionally, with respect
to social impact, supervisors could assist direct reports in seeing the connections between
their jobs and the mission and vision of the organization. In particular, programs could
be developed to create deeper social relationships among employees and clients as a way
of strengthening perceptions of social impact (that is, client testimonials, quality circles
comprised of both employees and clients). Employees and clients could also be “twinned”
on personal attributes and work together on product and service improvements.
Perceptions of meaningful work may partially stem from personality traits and
cognitive styles. For example, an external locus of control may prompt employees to see
less job autonomy (Wang, Bowling & Eschleman, 2010). Perceptions of low job autonomy
could then lead to negative employee attitudes and behavior (Terry & Jimmieson, 1999;
Theorell, 2003). Employees could be coached to examine their cognitive styles, including
those associated with core self-evaluations (Judge & Bono, 2001), psychological capital
(Luthans, Avey, Norman & Combs, 2006) and benet-nding (Tennen & Afeck, 2002).
For example, employees could be trained in mindfulness (that is, attention, awareness;
Brown & Ryan, 2003) and work with supervisors to shift their perspectives on their jobs
(for example, from “work” to “play;” Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000). Team assessments of
personality traits and cognitive styles could inform these pursuits.
Third, organizational consultants could assist employers in their understanding of
work motivation from the standpoint of meaning (for example, Wong, 1998). Models of
meaning could be used as a “lens” for understanding how decisions may impact employee
and organizational performance. Specically, typical activities of managers (Borman &
Brush, 1993) could be reviewed and modied to promote higher levels of meaningful
work and well-being among employees. For example, developing and mentoring people is
a common dimension of managerial work (Yukl, Wall & Lepsinger, 1990). Managers could
use theories of self-actualization to inform employee development activities, and ensure
that such efforts address employee-centered interests (that is, “human” development in
addition to employee development).
Fourth, employers could revisit their career development programs to ensure
that opportunities exist for employees to realize long-term career goals within the
organization. Since this form of career advancement appears to be a facet of meaningful
work, such long-term goals are likely aligned with employees’ sense of self or identity.
Career development programs could be better aligned with the life purposes, goals and
values of employees. This idea is central to boundaryless (Arthur, 1994) and protean (Hall,
2002) concepts of career development. While the uniqueness of each employee would
appear to make this cost-prohibitive, self-report inventories of goals, values and motives
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195Meaningful Work is Healthy Work
(Hofstede, 1994; Reiss & Havercamp, 1998) and cluster analysis (Kaufman & Rousseeuw,
1990) could be employed to identify employee segments. A limited “suite” of program
components could then be developed to address these segments.
Fifth, organizational consultants could assist managers and direct reports in their
collaborative efforts to redesign jobs. Job crafting (Berg, Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2010)
could be undertaken to nd ways of fullling roles and accountabilities while also
satisfying employee needs for meaningful work. In terms of self-actualization, employees
could be asked to imagine what they would do for the rest of their lives if they didn’t have
to work for money. Distilled themes from this exercise could be used to redesign jobs in
ways that remain faithful to the needs of the organization. Employees could also be asked
for ideas on how they could have a larger impact on clients, and the world in general.
Finally, employers could promote meaningfulness in employees’ non-work lives.
Studies show that less than 8 percent of individuals’ life longings are work-related (Kotter-
Grühn, Wiest, Zurek & Scheibe, 2009). Surveys could be used to identify the rest of
employees’ life longings, and inform initiatives to support them. These initiatives are not
an employer’s responsibility. Yet, studies show that contributing directly to employees’
non-work lives can lead to higher organizational commitment (Cohen, 1997). While
some supports could be monetary (for example, increased benets), organizations may
benet more by sponsoring activities that directly address, for example, employee needs
for social impact. For example, employees could engage in several paid days of community
work per year. Non-work time created by compressed work weeks and sabbaticals could
be used for continuing education. A suite of similar opportunities could be pre-developed
in alignment with dimensions of meaning for the sake of cost and efciency.
LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH
The reviewed studies were not without limitations. First, they were based on convenience
samples that were over-weighted by females and employees in supervisory positions.
Future research should take advantage of probability sampling (Kidder & Judd, 1986).
The results should also be replicated with other measures, as some work characteristics
and well-being variables were measured with single items. The role of personality in both
perceptions of meaningful work and well-being will also be considered in a future study.
The reviewed studies relied on self-report data, which could be associated with
response sets (Crocker & Algina, 1986) and method variance effects (Spector & Brannick,
1995). Future studies should be conducted using other methods of data collection (for
example, behavioral observation, ratings). The research was also cross-sectional in nature,
which limits causal interpretations. Longitudinal and quasi-experimental methods could
be employed to more accurately assess changes in the levels of employee well-being as a
function of meaningful work.
Conclusions
In summary, three studies showed meaningful work characteristics to be strong correlates
and unique predictors of several well-being variables among employed individuals. For
most well-being variables, meaningful work characteristics were associated with the largest
or second largest effects. The results were particularly compelling for a meaningful work
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196 The Fulfilling Workplace
composite consisting of self-actualizing work, social impact, personal accomplishment
and career advancement. Yet, this meaningful work content is underrepresented in many
models and measures of work characteristics (Campion & Thayer, 1985; Hackman &
Oldham, 1975; Parker & Wall, 1998; Warr, 1994) and occupational health (Hurrell, Nelson
& Simmons, 1998). This observation, together with the reviewed ndings, suggest that
meaningful work characteristics are an overlooked source of employee well-being, and a
possible competitive advantage for employers. Employers may benet from offering work
that enables employees to realize their full potential, purpose, values and goals, to have
signicant social impacts, to feel a regular sense of accomplishment, and to achieve their
highest career goals.
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Appendix
Table 10.1 Commonly-found dimensions of psychological meaning
Theme Reference
Purpose in life • Battista & Almond (1973)
• Baumeister (1991)
• Crumbaugh and Maholick (1964)
• Debats (1998)
• Reker & Peacock (1981)
• Ryff and Keyes (1995)
Living according to one’s purpose, values,
and goals
• Baumeister (1991)
• Ebersole (1998)
• Frankl (1992)
• Locke (2002)
• Sheldon and Elliot (1999)
Authenticity • Harter (2002)
Spirituality and religion • Ebersole (1998)
• Emmons (1999)
• Wong (1998)
Relationships • Ebersole (1998)
• Emmons (1999)
• Hogan and Warremfeltz (2003)
• Ryan and Deci (2000)
• Ryff and Keyes (1995)
• Wong (1998)
Generativity, service, and self-
transcendence
• Ebersole (1998)
• Emmons (1999)
• Wong (1998)
Autonomy and control • Antonovsky (1990)
• Csikszentmihalyi (1990)
• Kobasa (1979)
• Ryan and Deci (2000)
• Ryff and Keyes (1995)
Commitment and engagement • Antonovsky (1990)
• Kobasa (1979)
• Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi (2003)
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204 The Fulfilling Workplace
Theme Reference
Challenge • Csikszentmihalyi (1990)
• Kobasa (1979)
Achievement, competence, and mastery • Emmons (1999)
• Hogan and Warremfeltz (2003)
• Ryan and Deci (2000)
• Ryff and Keyes (1995)
• Wong (1998)
Self-realization,growth,andfulllment • Baumeister (1991)
• Ebersole (1998)
• Maslow (1970)
• Rogers (1961)
• Ryff and Keyes (1995)
• Wong (1998)
Self-acceptance • Ryff and Keyes (1995)
• Wong (1998)
Making sense of one’s life • Antonovsky (1990)
• Hogan and Warremfeltz (2003)
Table 10.1 Commonly-found dimensions of psychological meaning continued
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205Meaningful Work is Healthy Work
Table 10.2 Meaningful Work Inventory (MWI) global work characteristics scales
Scale Facets
Meaningful Work • Self-actualizingwork(e.g.,jobenablesonetofulllone’s
potential and become a fully-functioning person)
• Social impact (i.e., legacy, generativity, “mattering”)
• Jobenablesonetofulllone’slifepurpose,goals,andvalues
• Feelings of personal accomplishment
• Belief in achieving one’s highest career goals in one’s
organization
Leadership & Organizational
Features
• Integrity (i.e., fair, honest, trustworthy, respectful, democratic)
• Authenticity (i.e., consistent words and actions)
• Clear communication of goals and direction
• Corporate social responsibility (i.e., protects and maintains
human rights and the environment)
Supervisory Relationships • Integrity (i.e., fair, honest, trustworthy, respectful,
accountable, democratic)
• Social support (i.e., emotional, appraisal)
• Feedback
• Recognition
• Communicates the importance of one’s job
Co-Worker Relationships • Integrity (i.e., trustworthy, respectful)
• Social support (i.e., emotional, instrumental)
Intrinsic Rewards • Autonomy
• Skill utilization
• Task variety
• Task identity
• Creative freedom
• Involvement and participation
• Job-inducedself-efcacy(e.g.,jobenablesonetodiscover
one’s strengths)
• General opportunities for growth and development
Extrinsic Rewards • Fair pay
• Perks
• Other rewards for one’s efforts
Organizational Support • Efcientoperations(i.e.,policies,procedures)
• Resources (i.e., people, things, training)
• Communications
• Role clarity
Work Demands & Balance • Work demands (i.e., realistic)
• Work–life balance
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Empirical research in organizational psychology has generally failed to support the popular notion that happy employees are also productive employees. This study examined the relationship of state and dispositional measures of affect to performance ratings. Results showed that dispositional but not state affect was a significant predictor of subsequent performance.
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