Sub-theme 54: Organizing for Meaningful Work: Implications for the Good Life -> HYBRID!

Evgenia I. Lysova
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Christopher Michaelson
University of St. Thomas, USA
Catherine Bailey
King’s College London, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Meaningful work can be a critical component of the good life for human beings. This claim finds support in the work of Frankl (1988), who argues that meaning is a universal human motivation, in Terkel (1974), who describes working as a search “for daily meaning as well as daily bread”, and more recently in the work of Yeoman (2014), who argues that meaningful work is a “fundamental human need”. The past two decades have seen growing consideration of the notion of meaningfulness in the context of organizations (e.g., Bailey et al., 2019; Lepisto & Pratt, 2017; Lysova et al., 2019; Michaelson et al., 2014; Rosso et al., 2010). Meaningful work has been found to have important benefits for individuals (e.g. job satisfaction, work engagement, etc.) and organizations (e.g. employee performance, creativity, etc.), and much research attention has been focused on understanding sources of meaningful work (for review, see Bailey et al., 2019; Lysova et al., 2019; Rosso et al., 2010). In empirical scholarship, meaningful work has been conceptualized from a realization perspective centered on the experience of self-actualization, and from a justification perspective centered on developing an account of or rationale for why one’s work is worthy or valuable (Lepisto & Pratt, 2017).
The experience of meaningfulness is often associated with participating in something larger than oneself (e.g., Rosso et al., 2010; Metz, 2013; Wolf, 2010). However, despite the volume of research that argues for the role of organizations in fostering meaningful work, the focus of research efforts thus far has been on the employee perspective (e.g., how employees draw a sense of meaning from their job design, leader behavior, or relationships at work). Surprisingly, the organizational perspective with regard to experiences that might enable or constrain meaningful work has received relatively little attention in organizational and management studies (Michaelson et al., 2014). One possible explanation may be that meaningful work is often perceived as an individual aspiration rather than an organizational responsibility. Philosophical scholarship has held organizations morally responsible for providing employees with the freedom and autonomy to pursue meaningful work (Bowie, 1998; Schwartz, 1982) but has said less about the organization’s responsibility to provide work that is intrinsically meaningful. Another explanation may have to do with organizations being less concerned with the authentic creation of opportunities for employees to experience meaningful work, but rather with the “management of meaning” in which the perception of work meaningfulness is exploited to serve instrumental goals (Bailey et al., 2017; Bunderson & Thompson, 2009; Lips-Wiersma & Morris, 2009; Michaelson et al., 2014; Toraldo et al., 2019). Philosophical scholarship has conversely challenged the view that meaningful work is solely “in the eye of the beholder” (Michaelson et al., 2014), suggesting that meaningfulness is “where subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness” (Wolf, 2013, p. 26).
Drawing on a philosophical understanding of the role of the organization in cultivating meaningful work could provide fruitful opportunities to connect organizational studies and philosophy to better understand how meaningful work enables the notion of a good life in an organizational context. With this call for papers, we therefore invite scholars to contribute to a discussion about the role of organizations in cultivating meaningful work and, in turn, enabling the good life for employees and others. Connecting empirical and philosophical scholarship is particularly relevant given that contemporary organizations are increasingly expected to engage in responsible ways of doing business and managing their employees to support the good life for a variety of stakeholders. Designing workplaces and implementing policies that provide opportunities for individuals to experience meaningful work that makes a societal contribution can be one way to satisfy these expectations. In this way, studying meaningfulness in an organizational context can link business ethics and organizational studies (Michaelson et al., 2014), organizational corporate social responsibility and meaningful work (e.g., Aguinis & Glavas, 2019), and explore the alignment between meaningful work and organizational purpose (Michaelson et al., 2020).
Some possible topics for papers in the subtheme include, but are not limited to:

  • What are the processes by which individuals derive a sense of meaning in the wider context of their organization?

  • What responsibility do organizations have in enabling meaningful work?

  • How can organizations support employees to derive a sense of meaning in their work or to connect to a wider sense of societal meaning?

  • How can a sense of meaning be experienced at different levels of an organization?

  • How does organizational purpose relate to the individual experience of meaningful work? How can they be aligned?

  • When do organizational efforts in relation to meaningful work lead to exploitation? How can this be prevented?

  • What creates experiences of meaninglessness in organizations?

  • Can meaningfulness be found in contexts of organizations that pursue unethical paths, or operate in societally questionable sectors (e.g., tobacco, oil, social media, etc.), and if so, how?



  • Aguinis, H., & Glavas, A. (2019): “On corporate social responsibility, sensemaking, and the search for meaningfulness through work.” Journal of Management, 45 (3), 1057–1086.
  • Bailey, C., Madden, A., Alfes, K., Shantz, A., & Soane, E. (2017): “The mismanaged soul: Existential labor and the erosion of meaningful work.” Human Resource Management Review, 27 (3), 416–430.
  • Bailey, C., Yeoman, R., Madden, A., Thompson, M., & Kerridge, G. (2019): “A review of the empirical literature on meaningful work: Progress and research agenda.” Human Resource Development Review, 18 (1), 83–113.
  • Bowie, N.E. (1998): “A Kantian theory of meaningful work.” Journal of Business Ethics, 17 (9/10), 1083–1092.
  • Bunderson, J.S., & Thompson, J.A. (2009): “The call of the wild: Zookeepers, callings, and the dual edges of deeply meaningful work.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 54 (1), 32–57.
  • Frankl, V.E. (1988): The Will to Meaning. New York: New American Library.
  • Lepisto, D.A., & Pratt, M.G. (2017): “Meaningful work as realization and justification: Toward a dual conceptualization.” Organizational Psychology Review, 7 (2), 99–121.
  • Lips-Wiersma, M., & Morris, L. (2009): “Discriminating between ‘meaningful work’ and the ‘management of meaning’.” Journal of Business Ethics, 88, 491–511.
  • Lysova, E.I., Allan, B.A., Dik, B.J., Duffy, R.D., & Steger, M.F. (2019): “Fostering meaningful work in organizations: A multi-level review and integration.” Journal of Vocational Behavior, 110, 374–389.
  • Metz, T. (2013): Meaning in Life. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Michaelson, C., Pratt, M.G., Grant, A.M., & Dunn, C.P. (2014): “Meaningful work: Connecting business ethics and organization studies.” Journal of Business Ethics, 121 (1), 77–90.
  • Michaelson, C., Lepisto, D., & Pratt, M. (2020): “Why corporate purpose statements often miss their mark.” LEADERSHIP, August 17, 2020; available at:
  • Rosso, B.D., Dekas, K.H., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010): “On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review.” Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 91–127.
  • Schwartz, A. (1982): “Meaningful work.” Ethics, 92 (4), 634–646.
  • Terkel, S. (1974): Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do. New York: The New Press.
  • Toraldo, L.M., Islam, G., & Mangia, G. (2019): “Serving time: Volunteer work, liminality and the uses of meaningfulness at music festivals.” Journal of Management Studies, 56 (3), 617–654.
  • Wolf, S. (2010): Meaning in life and why it matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Yeoman, R. (2014): “Conceptualising meaningful work as a fundamental human need.” Journal of Business Ethics, 125, 235–251.
Evgenia I. Lysova is an Associate Professor in Organizational Behavior at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Her research focuses on the meaning of work as a calling, meaningful work, CSR, and relationships. Evgenia’s work has been published in such international peer-reviewed journals as ‘Human Relations’, ‘Personnel Psychology’, ‘Journal of Vocational Behavior’, and ‘Journal of Business and Psychology’, among others.
Christopher Michaelson is the Opus Distinguished Professor of Principled Leadership at the University of St. Thomas, USA. He seeks to build disciplinary bridges – exploring the purpose of business and meaning of work in research that has recently been published in the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, and ‘Organization Studies’.
Catherine Bailey is Professor of Work and Employment at King’s College London, UK. Her research focuses on meaningful work, callings, employee engagement, and temporality. Katie is co-editor of the “Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work” (2019) and has been on the editorial team for two special issues on the topic with the ‘Journal of Management Studies’ and the ‘Journal of Business Ethics’.