Self-transcendence and the mixed valence experience of meaningful work: emerging findings from a qualitative study

Adrian Madden, Catherine Bailey

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A recent study of job design and motivation showed that ‘Americans report important, meaningful work is the job feature they value most – above promotions, income, job security, and hours’ (Grant, 2007: 394). Indeed, the importance of meaningful work is consistent across many cultures and has been studied for some time across a range of disciplines, including philosophy, psychology and sociology. Pratt and Ashforth (2003: 311) state that meaningful work arises when ‘work and/or its context are perceived by its practitioners to be, at a minimum, purposeful and signifi cant’. Elsewhere, research has shown meaningfulness to be associated with organisational commitment, job performance, employee engagement and retention (Pavlish and Hunt, 2012).

Meaningful work has often been confounded with the ‘meaning of’ work; however, work can have a range of both positive and negative meanings, including ‘curse’, ‘commodity’ or ‘disutility’ (Terkel, 1973; Donkin, 2001; Budd, 2011), perceived to preclude its experience as meaningful. Although it has been acknowledged that people have a strong drive to fi nd meaning in the work they do even when that work is largely repetitive and tedious (Frankl, 1959; Cascio, 2003; Isaksen, 2000), there is little agreement over the distinctive nature of meaningful work or the circumstances in which work is perceived as meaningful. With a dearth of empirical studies in the fi eld, and at a time when work is seen to be further degraded 212WORK2015 - Abstracts through precarious and deskilled jobs, it remains unknown whether some jobs are more meaningful than others, what it is that makes them so, or if all work has the potential to be meaningful.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWORK2015
Subtitle of host publicationNew Meanings of Work
Place of PublicationTurku
PublisherUniversity of Turku
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes
EventWORK2015: New Meanings of Work - Turku, Finland
Duration: 19 Aug 201521 Aug 2025


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