Date of release: Friday, October 16, 2015

What makes a job meaningful, and what effect does time have, both working and 'off the clock'?

A University of Greenwich employment relations expert suggests meaningfulness is often realised later, rather than while the work is going on.

Dr Adrian Madden has co-authored an article for the leading academic journal, Work, Employment and Society, with Professor Katie Bailey from the University of Sussex which has just been published online.

"Most people would say nursing is a meaningful job, but what makes that meaningful and another job not?" says Adrian. "It's difficult to define the essence of meaningfulness.

"What we found in our study was that no one found their jobs constantly meaningful. It seemed to be episodic, arising on reflection after an event rather than 'in the moment' and that it's often linked with other things not immediately associated with the task in hand.

"We spoke to 140 people from 10 areas of work, including the army, academics, solicitors, the retail sector and creative industries. One of the most interesting groups was the binmen, whom you might think work to a fairly regimented schedule, but that wasn't the case. They created their own schedules within the job.

"They spoke of how they see their work linking to the past and the future, in terms of making places cleaner and they find meaningfulness from that. Their work is making a difference.

"There's also the social angle. Meaningfulness often arises in the in-between times at work that are social and don't really count as 'clock time'. In the case of zero-hours contracts for example, where people don't get paid for time they're not 'working', it could be argued we're designing meaningfulness out of jobs."

The next steps for Adrian and Katie involve a call for papers for a special issue of the Journal of Management Studies linked to a conference in Auckland next year to look further into different aspects of meaningfulness. They are also plans for a book to be published in 2018 along with other academics working in this field.

Bailey, C and A Madden Time Reclaimed: Temporality and the Experience of Meaningful Work is available here.

For more on studying employment relations within the University of Greenwich Business School:

Story by Public Relations