MARCH 1, 2019

Finding Meaning in Work

Written by Dr. Gregory Price

Employees crave meaningful work and a sense of purpose. Studer (2018) suggested that individuals place greater importance on the meaning of work than they do on workplace happiness or making a high salary. He also found that the lack of meaning in one’s career contributes to high employee turnover.

Realization and Justification Perspectives

In today’s business environment, leaders in the workplace provide employees some level of autonomy, control, and a place to utilize their skills. However, some employees are still finding the meaning in the work they do elusive (Ge Lepisto & Pratt, 2017). Maybe what is required is a new lens to look at how leaders and employees can control this outcome of meaningful work.

Let’s do this by looking at meaningful work using two perspectives. The first is the ‘realization perspective’ and the second is the ‘justification perspective.’ Each provide a unique perspective depending on which lens meaning of work is viewed.

Realization Perspective. The ‘realization perspective’ is fairly well developed and concentrates on how an employee perceives if they are being used for purposes other than what they value as important. The leader influences these perspectives. In the leader-follower model, an employee’s perceived value depends on the relationship between the employee and the leader. Though relationships are integral to trust, one way the leader could enrich the employee’s perspective is by providing intrinsic motivation and removing leadership constraints such as prescription, domination, inauthenticity, and limited autonomy.

Justification Perspective. The justification perspective is less developed, though the idea is aligned with uncertainty, ambiguity, and the value the individual places on self-efficacy and personal performance. Employee work experiences are subjective and are viewed through the employee’s norms, values, and perceptions of self-worth (Ge Lepisto & Pratt, 2017). Stated another way, through self-efficacy, employees will question the work they are doing and question whether or not the work they are doing has value. They will also question the reason for them doing the work, and if they cannot align the work they are doing with their values, the result can cause an insecure feeling.

Conclusion

The realization perspective is how well a leader communicates the value of work to employees through motivation and also through the removal of leadership constraints. The justification perspective is how well the employee understands self-efficacy. Employees with a high self-efficacy are intrinsically guided by personal values, and these individuals will battle potential constraining, impoverished working conditions. Without this intrinsically guided moral compass, employees may be destined to work that has no meaning.

References

Studer, Q. (2018, Aug 05). Leaders help employees find meaning, purpose in their work. Pensacola News Journal.

Lepisto, D. A., & Pratt, M. G. (2017). Meaningful work as realization and justification: Toward a dual conceptualization. Organizational Psychology Review, 7(2), 99–121. https://doi.org/10.1177/2041386616630039

Dr. Gregory Price is the Associate Dean in the School of Applied Leadership at City University of Seattle. Leadership studies support an individual’s independence and self-efficacy. Challenge courses you have taken in leadership and apply them to the Master of Science in Management and Leadership. Printed with permission from the CityU School of Applied Leadership blog.


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