Experiencing meaningful work through worthwhile contributions: A critical discourse analysis

Catherine Bailey, Adrian Madden, Marjolein Lips-Wiersma

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Abstract

Why do individuals find their work meaningful and what is the role of worthwhile contributions in this experience? We undertake an analysis of accounts related by individuals working as nurses, lawyers and creative artists in which they explain why they find their work meaningful. Drawing on the traditions of critical discourse and narrative analysis, and informed by French pragmatic sociology, we move beyond a focus on what is said to consider how accounts are structured in explanations of meaningfulness. We find meaningfulness to be discursively constituted in the judgement that work makes a worthwhile contribution to others or wider society. We add theoretically to the literature on meaningful work, first, by revealing worthwhile contributions to be a complex, three-fold evaluation comprising the value attached by the individual to their contribution, validation from others that aligns with the individual’s own evaluation concerning the worth of the contribution, and the individual’s self-efficacy belief that they are able to make the contribution. Second, we build bridges between hitherto disconnected branches of the meaningful work literature grounded in positive psychology on the one hand and moral worth on the other by showing how judgements of worth are fundamental to the experience of meaningfulness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Apr 2024

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