For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Work as Meaning: Individual and Organizational Benefits of Engaging in Meaningful Work"

by Steger, Michael F; Dik, Bryan J (2009)


We review the literature on work as meaning and propose a theoretical model of factors that support engagement in meaningful work. We argue that meaningful work arises when people have a clear sense of self, an accurate understanding of the nature and expectations of their work environment, and understand how to transact with their organizations to accomplish their work objectives. We argue that this comprehension of the self in work provides the foundation for people to develop a sense of purpose and mission about their work that both motivates their engagement and performance and helps them transcend their own immediate interests to achieve concern for their contributions to their organization and the greater good. We describe potential and documented benefits of meaningful work to individuals and organizations and provide some suggestions for practical applications and future research.

Key Passage

The earliest accounts of the meaning of work reach back to religious teachings about the purpose of human existence. This heritage provides a rich theoretical grounding for understanding the characteristics of meaningful work. The word ‘‘vocation’’ reflects this religious heritage, coming from the Latin word vocare, ‘‘to call.’’ For most of Western religious history, vocation referred to the belief that people were called by God to engage in religious vocation. This perspective maintained a hierarchical separation between the idealized, sacred work of monastic life and the more base, secular work of the common people. However, Augustine, Aquinas, and Benedict discussed ‘‘good work’’ in various occupations, and the Protestant Reformers embraced the idea that people could be called to any line of work, as long as it served a greater purpose and a greater good (see Barendsen & Gardner, Chapter 24, this volume, for a modern perspective on ‘‘good work’’). Luther, for example, viewed work as a specific call to love one’s neighbor through the duties that accompany their social place or ‘‘station.’’ Calvin affirmed the view that all legitimate areas of work possessed inherent dignity to the extent that they contributed to the common good, and argued that a person’s station had to be judged according its capacities as an instrument of direct or indirect social service (Hardy, 1990; Schuurman, 2004). This idea, further developed by the Puritans in 17th-century England and America, persists to the present day in many respects. Modern scholars typically assume that humans live in societies bound by common needs and mutual service, and that work role activities therefore have direct or indirect social implications that vary in magnitude (Blustein, 2006; Dik & Duffy, 2009; Hardy, 1990). ()


Meaningful Work, Psychology, Work Environment, Work Organisation


Meaningful Work, Meaningful Work

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