Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 156, Issue 4, pp 1045–1061 | Cite as

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

  • Kelly Pledger WeeksEmail author
  • Caitlin Schaffert
Original Paper


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 (Rosso et al. in Res Organ Behav 30:91–127, 2010). Researchers have not only called for more research studying demographic differences in definitions of meaning (e.g., Michaelson et al. in J Bus Ethics 121(1):77–90, 2014), but also more research utilizing mixed methods to study psychological concepts like meaningful work (e.g., Eid and Diener, in Eid, Diener (eds) 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 (J Bus Ethics 88(3):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.


Generational differences Meaningful work Mixed methods design Stereotypes 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rhodes CollegeMemphisUSA
  2. 2.Centenary College of LouisianaGrapevineUSA

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