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Mangerial World Essay

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Journal of Business Ethics (2009) 88:491–511 DOI 10.1007/s10551-009-0118-9

Ó Springer 2009

Discriminating Between ‘Meaningful Work’ and the ‘Management of Meaning’

Marjolein Lips-Wiersma Lani Morris

ABSTRACT. The interest in meaningful work has significantly increased over the last two decades. Much of the associated managerial research has focused on researching ways to ‘provide and manage meaning’ through leadership or organizational culture. This stands in sharp contrast with the literature of the humanities which suggests that meaningfulness does not need to be provided, as the distinct feature of a human being is that he or she has an intrinsic ‘will to meaning’. The research that has been done based on the humanistic paradigm has been quite fragmented. This article aims to address these gaps through an action research project that actively involved participants in the process of affirming and uncovering the meaningfulness of their work. Our findings contribute to current organizational scholarship and practice as they (a) enable scholars to clearly distinguish ‘meaningful work’ from ‘the management of meaning’, (b) bring together the various sources of meaningful work in one framework and show their relationship with each other, (c) clearly show the importance of engaging with both the inspiration towards the ideal as well as the often less than perfect self and the organizational reality in

which meaning gets expressed and (d) contribute to our understanding of how to engage individuals in conversations about meaningful work that are not prescriptive or exclusive, but that also show where meanings are commonly held. KEY WORDS: action research, management of meaning, meaningful work, meaningless work

Introduction The interest in meaningful work has significantly increased over the last two decades through theory development in transformational leadership, organizational culture and, more recently, employee engagement. While in this literature...

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