Meaningful Work

Understanding one potential key to greater satisfaction and performance for individuals and organizations

What is meaningful work?

People work for many reasons - some are obvious (I am paid to work), some are not as obvious (work is where my friends are). Many sources of evidence indicate that understanding how people approach work and what they get from it is vital to learning how to achieve the best possible outcomes for individuals and organizations. Few other avenues offer as much promise for accomplishing valued outcomes - both in terms of daily work and in terms of long-term, sustainable performance - as creating meaning in work.

Work is meaningful when people are able to understand who they are as workers, what their organization is about, and how they uniquely fit within - and contribute to - their organization. This sense of comprehension about themselves as workers helps people generate a purpose for their work. As they work toward a purpose in their work – whether self-generated or fostered by clear leadership from their organization – they will feel a sense of transcendence that encourages their identification with their organization and its mission.

Some people are endowed with an internally-generated sense of meaning and purpose about their work. Research suggests that organizations should energetically seek to identify and recruit these individuals. They work better in groups, express more faith in management, and devote more discretionary effort to their organizations. There are also indications that they express less intent to turnover and more organizational commitment, thereby showing more promise of contributing to their organizations for a longer time.

Where does meaning in work come from?

Many people do not automatically approach their work with such a sense of meaning and purpose. Some research has identified specific organizational factors that hold promise for providing workers in organizations with meaningful work. My work focuses on two such factors: Organizational Mission and Leadership. In order for the typical worker to feel like his or her work matters, a compelling organizational mission should be clearly communicated. Organizations that wish to attract or cultivate workers driven by a sense of meaning and purpose may consider developing a Mission that is consistent with organizational identity and with the niche it serves. Effective leadership is important not only to communicating the Mission and identity of an organization, and also to creating an organizational environment that provides workers with a clear understanding of their role and fosters in them an identification with their organization's purpose.

My Work

My research and consultation focuses on identifying and creating the factors that enable people to engage in meaningful work. Toward this end, I have developed a multidimensional measure of work meaning, and have engaged in efforts to identify organizations that are succeeding in attracting or cultivating, and retaining, meaning-motivated workers. Part of this work involves understanding the features of these successful organizations and leaders. Another part of this work involves developing interventions to address the needs of organizations interested in increasing their effectiveness, and leaders who either want to experience greater meaning in their own work or more effectively foster meaning in the work of their followers.

Several examples of my scholarly work on this topic can be found as links from my Curriculum Vita.

Consultation

Consultation inquiries can be sent to Michael Steger through email.


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