Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 4 2008, page 59-75.
English resume

Meaning in work life

Definition and conceptualization

Ib Ravn

An important aspect of the psychosocial work environment is the meaning that employees derive from their work. Most research into meaning in work life has asked respondents to estimate how much meaning they experience or to enumerate the elements of their work they see as meaningful. Neither approach has much basis in theory, and a deeper understanding of what makes work life meaningful is still lacking. To remedy this situation, a definition of meaning is proposed: Meaning is what we experience when we realize how a phenomenon connects to a larger context or whole. Hence, meaning in work life is the experience that, through our work activities, we become part of, or contribute to, something beyond our individual selves.

A conceptualization is derived that specifies four factors that collectively define meaning in work life. Work is experienced as meaningful to the extent that:

  • One can use signature strengths and talents and thus develop as a person,
  • The organization creates products and services that meet real human needs and thus promote societal development,
  • Work activities make an important contribution to the organization,
  • The worker feels part of well-organized and productive work community.

These factors promote meaning in that they help people become more fully human, engage with a larger community and contribute to society through their work. This conceptualization may be operationalized as survey items that ask respondents to estimate the degree to which they experience them. Further, the four factors identify points of intervention that may be used by change agents: To create more meaning at work, help employees use their signature strengths more, manufacture products that better promote social development, etc.

Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv

(Journal for Working Life)




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in Danish frontpage Nyt om arbejdsliv
editor Jørgen Burchardt