Generational Differences in Definitions of Meaningful Work: A Mixed Methods Study

Journal of Business Ethics 156 (4):1045-1061 (2019)
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The search for meaningful work has been of interest to researchers from a variety of disciplines for decades and seems to have grown even more recently. Much of the literature assumes that employees share a sense of what is meaningful in work and there isn’t much attention given to how and why meanings might differ. Researchers have not only called for more research studying demographic differences in definitions of meaning :77–90, 2014), but also more research utilizing mixed methods to study psychological concepts like meaningful work Handbook of multimethod measurement in psychology, American Psychological Association, Washington, 2006). This study specifically examines differences across generational cohorts on their prioritization of sources of meaningful work through qualitative, in-depth interviews followed by a more generalizable, quantitative survey. Findings from the qualitative study show that generational cohorts define the meaning in their jobs differently, and they hold negative perceptions about the lack of desire for meaning in each of the other cohorts. Study 2 maps generational cohorts on the comprehensive model of meaningful work designed by Lips-Wiersma and Morris :491–511, 2009) to reveal that although there are some differences in prioritization of sources of meaningful work, all generational cohorts share similar desire to “develop and become themselves” when asked about their definitions of meaningful work. Implications and future research are discussed.



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