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1 May Meaning Meeting March 30, 2007 March Death, Disease, Despair, and Destruction: Why Even Try?

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Presentation on theme: "1 May Meaning Meeting March 30, 2007 March Death, Disease, Despair, and Destruction: Why Even Try?"— Presentation transcript:

1 1 May Meaning Meeting March 30, 2007 March Death, Disease, Despair, and Destruction: Why Even Try?

2 2 May Meaning Meeting March 30, 2007 March Meaning in Connection: A Relational Perspective on the Meaning of Work

3 3 Roadmap Overview of our journey & process Dominant perspectives on the meaning of work From a different view: A relational perspective Questions & discussion (throughout!)

4 4 Our Journey Impetus: Shared interest in broad review of MOW literature Goals: Review existing literature What are the dominant perspectives and assumptions? What might history tell us about where MOW research is going? Generate fresh perspectives and opportunities Speak to a broader OB audience How does meaning shape organizational behavior? Process: Inductive, organic approach Organized literature by era and theme Summarized each piece using consistent framework Held weekly phone calls; took detailed meeting notes Held monthly thematic integration meetings

5 5 Goals For Today Share our developing ideas Gather your feedback: Where do links need to be clearer? What have we missed? Other relevant literature we might include Bottom line: Are we barking up the right tree? Can you see the tree?

6 6 Where Are We Now? We argue that the study of the meaning of work has primarily located meaning within the individual, paying less attention to the connections between the individual and other important entities.

7 7 How Did We Get Here? The world of work has changed over time Less reliance on community to share and produce resources More time spent at work (Schor, 1992) Organizational ties and jobs are less stable and secure (de Janasz, Sullivan, & Whiting, 2003) Functions of work are more individualized and disconnected from society/craft (Sennett, 1998) The targets of the meaning of work have narrowed accordingly Modern scholars focus heavily on self-connectedness and self-fulfillment as key sources of meaning in work. e.g., Calling = link to God vs. Calling = link to true self Now: Americanized, person-centered understanding of MOW. God Self Society Work (General) Organization Job

8 8 A focus on the individual as locus of meaning yields certain definitions, assumptions, and research questions. Meaning of Work: W orks perceived function in life, beliefs about valued outcomes attained from working, actual outcomes received from working, expected contribution of work toward satisfying an individuals needs (Brief & Nord, 1990) Assumptions: Self draws meaning from various entities Self is the project of focus (e.g., self-actualization, authenticity) Job, work, organization, etc. are vehicles through which to find and express self Focus on Individual

9 9 Sample Research Questions: How does context influence selfs assessment of the meaning of work? Which organizational factors contribute to self-fulfillment? How does an individuals sense of purpose shape her work behavior? Focus on Individual (Contd) Meaning ? Community Coworkers Higher Power Work Organization Job

10 10 A Different Perspective: The Relational Approach We propose that when the focus is moved from the individual to the connection between the individual and valued entities (e.g., other people, communities, work, a higher power, etc.), new insights emerge about how individuals make meaning of their work.

11 11 Why a Relational Approach? While MOW research has focused on connections, scholars primarily focus on the connection between the work and the self (e.g., person-job interaction). A self-oriented understanding overlooks other important ways individuals make meaning of and through their work (see also Cardador, 2007). Work life is full of potentially meaningful connections to a variety of sources (e.g., work, job, organization, other people, higher power, self, etc.). A relational perspective sheds light on the many meaningful connections we make in, at, and through work, and on the differing ways they shape the experience of work.

12 12 A focus on connections yields different definitions, assumptions, and research questions. Meaning: The essence of meaning is connection, or what links two separate entities in their relation to each other; may or may not be widely shared by individuals (Baumeister, 1991; Baumeister & Vohs, 2002) Assumptions: Meaning is drawn from the connections among significant entities Self is arbiter of connections between elements Meaning can be focused internally, toward the self, or externally, toward other elements Focus on Connections

13 13 Sample Research Questions How, and to what degree do different types of meaningful connections shape the way individuals make meaning of their work? How do different connections interact/compete? Does a strong sense of meaning in life contribute to or detract from the meaning of work? Are certain types of connections more meaningful for certain individuals or at different times in life? Focus on Connections Community Coworkers Job Higher Power Organization Work

14 14 Prominent Connections Other People Individuals Communities Organizations Work Callings Work Orientation Other Life Domains A Higher Power Self

15 15 Prominent Connections Communities Work Orientation A Higher Power Self

16 16 Examples: Šverko & Vizek-Vidović, 1995; Wrzesniewski et al., 1997; Wrzesniewski, 2003; Dobrow, 2004, 2007; Cardador, Dane, & Pratt, 2007; Elangovan & Pinder, Key contributions: Ones relationship to the work matters as much as the kind of work (Wrzesniewski, 1999) Heavy focus on callings in literature, but all work (including job- and career-oriented) has meaning; must look at the specific source of the connection to understand how the person finds meaning through work (e.g., Wrzesniewski et al., 1997; Dobrow, 2004, 2007; Cardador, Dane, & Pratt, 2007; Elangovan & Pinder, 2007) Mechanisms: Values, framing, entry route Person-Work Connections: Work Orientation

17 17 Work Orientation: Focus on Individual Assumptions: Individuals act upon job and organizational contexts to realize orientations (e.g., job crafting). Work orientation is fundamentally about individuals framing and experience of work. Types of questions generated by this approach: What different orientations do individuals have to the same kinds of work? What are the implications of work orientations for the self? How does context influence selfs assessment of the meaning of work?

18 18 Work Orientation: Focus on Connection Assumptions: Broader facets of work and ones world are sites of meaning making Focus can be on meaning of work to self (of different types) or meaning of work to others (of different types) Types of questions generated by this approach How do other life domains affect relationship between individual and work? How is work orientation affected by the connection to the work group, the organization, the occupation, the wider world?

19 19 Examples: Loscocco, 1989; Hardy, 1990; Shamir, 1991; Rawsthorne & Elliot, 1999; Dutton, 2003; Pratt & Ashforth, 2003; Wrzesniewski, Dutton, & Debebe, 2003; Cardador, 2007; Grant et al., 2007; Rosso, 2007; Tosti, 2007; Wade-Benzoni, Key contributions: People are also motivated for collective concerns (Shamir, 1991). Meaning derived from contributing to things larger and longer- term than ourselves (Hardy, 1990; Cardador, 2007; Grant et al., 2007; Sonenshein, 2007). Prosocial behavior Community connections Work meaningfulness (Cardador, 2007; Rosso, 2007). Work provides meaningful roles in society and our communities. Mechanisms: Social connection, collective resource building, kin selection, prosocial identity, legacy Interpersonal Connections: Communities & Collectives

20 20 Spiritual Connections Examples: Luther, 1520; Calvin, 1574; Weber, 1930; Hardy, 1990; Lips- Wiersma, 2002; Weiss, 2004; Bunderson & Thompson, Key contributions: Sense of purpose in work coming from the connectedness to something greater than oneself (e.g., Luther, 1520; Calvin, 1574; Hardy, 1990; Weiss, 2004; Bunderson & Thompson, 2007) Return to pre-industrialization perspectives; evidence that people seek meaningful connections through work to more than just their individual strengths (e.g., Hardy, 1990; Lips-Wiersma, 2002; Weiss, 2004; Bunderson & Thompson, 2007) Mechanisms: Transcendence, harmony, stability, security, social connection; prosocial orientation

21 21 Examples: Bellah et al., 1985; Shamir, 1991; Levoy, 1997; Dobrow, 2004; Pratt, Rockmann, & Kaufmann, 2006; Barker-Caza, 2007; Blatt & Ashford, 2007; Vough, Key contributions: We seek out work and contexts that are aligned with our self-concept (Shamir, 1991; Seyle & Swann, 2007) Individuals are prompted to connect to their authentic selves, finding work which taps unique strengths and values (Bellah et al., 1985; Levoy, 1997) Mechanisms: Stability, security, self-esteem, self- expression Self-Connectedness: Authenticity

22 22 Why Take a Relational Approach? Adds needed texture and breadth to current understandings of MOW, while preserving individual experience and agency. Opens up a more social view of the meaning of work than one rooted in the self. Targets growing areas of inquiry (e.g., spirituality, justice, interpersonal relationships, etc.), pushing scholarship toward predicting future meaningful connections rather than explaining the past. By examining connections, potential for building a historical trajectory that illuminates trends in meaning-making over time grows.

23 23 Conclusions Connections matter Current scholarship focuses primarily on internal psychological processes and self-oriented pursuits A relational approach: Offers a new framework from which to organize, reinterpret, and broaden existing perspectives Reveals under-explored ways that people make meaning of, at, through work Places the study of MOW more squarely in center of OB

24 24 Where We Need Your Help: Making the Case Does this framework make sense? Where do you see the potential gem in this? What do you see as other new frontiers in the field that might be applicable? How can we most effectively make the case? How can we build theory from this framework?

25 25 Questions and Comments?

26 26 Thank You!

27 27 Why does Meaning Matter to OB? Meaning is everywhere in organizational life Meaning shapes the individual and collective experience of work (cognition, behavior, and affect) Types of meaning (e.g., work as calling vs. job) Level of meaningfulness of work (e.g., anomie to deep meaning) Meaning shapes work behaviors that scholars and organizations care about Cooperation, commitment, turnover

28 28 What Were Not Talking About…. Micro-processes of meaning-making Impact of meaningful work Individual differences in the meaning of work

29 29 To Contrast the Views… Focus on Individual What elements of work are meaningful to the individual? How does an individuals sense of purpose shape her work behavior? How does context influence selfs assessment of the meaning of work? Which organizational factors contribute to self-fulfillment? Focus on Connections How, and to what degree do different types of meaningful connections shape the way individuals make meaning of their work? How do different connections interact/compete? Does a strong sense of meaningfulness in life contribute to or detract from the experience of meaningful work? Are certain types of connections more meaningful for certain individuals or at different times in life?

30 30 Key Definitions Meaning: The essence of what links two separate entities in their relation to each other; may or may not be widely shared by individuals. Meaningfulness: The extent to which the individual perceives the work and/or its context as purposeful and significant (Hackman & Oldham, 1976; Pratt & Ashforth, 2003). Connection: A significant relationship to another entity (e.g., self, job, org, society, God, etc.), which may vary in strength, stability, and affective tone. Relational: Implying kinship, connection, or a living tie between elements. Locus/target of meaning: The physical or psychological entity through which meaning is found or produced.


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