The social construction of meaningful work
Extant research shows that the meaningfulness of work (MW), as experienced by organizational members, contributes to productivity and other organizational goals in significant ways. However, extant MW research relies on one-dimensional functionalist psychological and sociological perspectives, understanding MW as inherent in mental states that are experienced when work satisfies the needs of employees, or as inherent in the structure of social systems. But meaning is not inherent in phenomena, it is socially constructed. Accordingly, extant MW literature is ontologically and epistemologically incomplete because a one-dimensional functionalist, and therewith reductionist perspective, disregards the social interaction (intersubjective) dimension of MW, and it does not take into account what can be known about MW. This qualitative case study investigates empirically the social construction of Meaningful Work (MW) in organizations, applying an inductive approach. Using a constructionist perspective, a mid-size publishing house in Germany was examined. Data was collected with the help of open-ended and semi-structured interview questions and organizational texts. The insights from the study allowed to explain how the participants reconstructed meaningful work by drawing from the institutional order of their society, associating corresponding teleologies, assigning functions for the implementation of such teleologies, and acting accordingly. As a result, meaningful work can be understood as a social construction, which emerges in multi-faceted contexts through institutional cognitions in social interaction. The contribution of the study consists in a comprehensive understanding of the nature of MW, and it provides an innovative methodology for the investigation of the social construction of MW.