The 3 Layers of Meaningful Work

A while ago, I shared a summary of a fantastic article on the sources of meaning in work co-authored by Amy Wrzesniewski. This year, while trying to understand how to create infographics, I wrote an article about Michael Steger’s (University of Colorado) CARMA framework on how leaders can help their employees to perceive meaning in their work.

Today, I’d like to share more of Michael’s insightful work. With several co-workers, he created a new scale that aims at measuring how much meaning somebody perceives in his or her current working role. It’s called Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI, here’s the original article).

Steger et al. find that it might be useful to conceptualize meaningful work as having three different layers (please also see the infographic at the bottom): The meaning of the work itself, the meaning it helps to generate in the wider context of the person’s life, and the meaning that is generated when a job helps to achieve some greater good. In their own words:

Positive meaning in work. This facet is a straightforward reflection of the idea of psychological meaningfulness that has been part of work psychology since the job characteristics model. […] Meaningful work is often a subjective experience that what one is doing has personal significance. 

Meaning making through work. Empirical research has shown that work frequently is an important source of meaning in life as a whole. There seems to be a common overlap between one’s work and one’s life work. Indeed, the idea that work could be meaningful without also leading people to build meaning in their lives as a whole makes little sense.

Greater good (GG) motivations. The desire to make a positive impact on the greater good is consistently related to the experience of meaningful work as well as the related construct of calling. […] This facet reflects commonly held ideas that work is most meaningful if it has a broader impact on others. 

As the saying goes:

All good comes in threes.

Three_Level_Meaning_Steger

2 thoughts on “The 3 Layers of Meaningful Work

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s