Katie Bailey


Title: What makes work meaningful or meaningless?

Affiliation: University of Sussex

Abstract intended for: Workshop during the conference

implications for practice: This workshop will help participants to understand what makes work meaningful or meaningless, to implement practices that help organisations to foster an environment conducive to meaningful work

implications for research: This workshop will include reference to the findings of recent research into meaningful work which will inform researchers of the latest findings and suggest directions for future study



Meaningful work is associated with important outcomes such as job satisfaction, happiness and engagement as well as low levels of stress, depression and intent to quit. People who find their work meaningful are able to see the ‘big picture’ and how their day-to-day work fits within the broader purpose of the organisation. People who find their work meaningful are more fulfilled and positive. Meaningful work goes beyond employee engagement in tapping into the soul of the organisation.  Interest in the topic has increased significantly in the past few years as more people recognize that meaningful work has an important role to play in individual, organisational and societal wellbeing. However, surprisingly little is in fact known about the core features of meaningful work, or how organisations can foster an environment conducive to individuals finding meaning in the work they do.

The workshop takes a practical, interactive approach suitable for HR managers, consultants, managers or individuals interested in knowing more about meaningfulness in an organisational context, and in participating in discussions around meaningful work.  It will help participants to learn about the key features of an organisational ecosystem that fosters meaningful work. The workshop has been run in slightly different formats at other conferences and events, and participants always say how interesting and useful the workshop is.  The plan is for the workshop to adopt the following format:

  1. Presentation: Introduction to meaningful work; what does meaningfulness mean? Can any job be meaningful? What stories do people tell about times they find their work meaningful?
  2. Group discussions about personal experiences of meaningful work. Debrief.
  3. Presentation: what makes work meaningless? What stories do people tell about meaningless work?
  4. Group discussions about personal experiences of meaningless work. Debrief.
  5. Presentation: what can organisations do to foster meaningful work? Introduction to the meaningful work ecosystem model.
  6. Group discussions about exemplars of good or bad organisational practice.
  7. Debrief on lessons learned.