For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Whose Responsibility is Meaningful Work?"

by Michaelson, Christopher (2011)


Purpose This paper aims to explore the conditions for meaningful work as a moral responsibility. Meaningful work is important in an increasingly globalized world in which greater wealth does not necessarily contribute to greater happiness and workers' well-being is often not within their own control. Often, meaningful work is considered to be desirable but not morally obligatory despite the continuing need for work that improves social and environmental welfare. Design/methodology/approach This paper utilizes literary examples to explore objective (Melville's Bartleby) and subjective (Proust's Marcel and Joyce's Stephen) conceptions of meaningful work. Findings How we define what meaningful work is who has control over it and whose interests are at stake makes a difference as to whose responsibility it is. An objective conception of meaningful work, focusing on the tendency for industrial production to exploit the worker, entails a weak (though nonetheless important) claim about moral responsibility, that there is a negative duty on the part of the employer not to deprive the worker of the possibility to choose work that is meaningful. A subjective conception of meaningful work, focusing on the worker's choice, raises a more contentious question about whether it is a moral responsibility at all to pursue meaningful work, when the only stakeholder is oneself. Originality/value The paper uses literary texts to explore in a concrete way how meaningful work can be considered to be a moral responsibility of individuals and institutions or employers, to make progress towards a holistic view of management.


Ethics, Employers, Employees, Job Satisfaction, Meaningful Work, Happiness, Well-Being, Empirical Study


Meaningful Work

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