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Meaningful Work: Connecting Business Ethics and Organization Studies

Abstract

In the human quest for meaning, work occupies a central position. Most adults spend the majority of their waking hours at work, which often serves as a primary source of purpose, belongingness, and identity. In light of these benefits to employees and their organizations, organizational scholars are increasingly interested in understanding the factors that contribute to meaningful work, such as the design of jobs, interpersonal relationships, and organizational missions and cultures. In a separate line of inquiry, scholars of business ethics have examined meaningful work as a moral issue concerning the management of others and ourselves, exploring whether there are definable characteristics of meaningful work to which we have moral rights, and whether there are moral duties to ourselves and others to fulfill those rights. In this article, we examine contemporary developments in both disciplines about the nature, causes, and consequences of meaningful work; we explore linkages between these disciplines; and we offer conclusions and research opportunities regarding the interface of ethical and organizational perspectives on performing and providing meaningful work.

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Notes

  1. For simplicity, this scholarly tradition will generally be referred to as “business ethics,” even though it also includes philosophers and ethicists who do not primarily identify as business ethicists but who have written on business, work, and economics. Their study, reputations, and research methods may be influential on and familiar to many business ethics scholars.

  2. This is not to say that all organization scholars use exclusively empirical research methods and all business ethics scholars use exclusively normative research methods. Within the ethics and business ethics literature, our focus on normative research allows for some comparisons and contrasts with organization studies research that we believe to be especially interesting and potentially fruitful.

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Correspondence to Christopher Michaelson.

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This article grew out of a panel discussion at the Society for Business Ethics Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada, in 2010. The authors thank the members of the audience for their feedback. The authors also thank the editors and reviewers of the Journal of Business Ethics for their encouraging and constructive recommendations.

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Michaelson, C., Pratt, M.G., Grant, A.M. et al. Meaningful Work: Connecting Business Ethics and Organization Studies. J Bus Ethics 121, 77–90 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1675-5

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Keywords

  • Business ethics
  • Human rights
  • Meaning of work
  • Meaningful work
  • Organization studies
  • Positive organizational studies
  • Prosocial behavior