Sub-Theme 19: Resilience and Meaningful Work
University of Sussex
Grenoble Ecole de Management
University of Melbourne
Universidad de los Andes,
Call for papers
Work has often been understood as constituting an important source of meaning in people’s lives (e.g. Jahoda, 1982): structuring time in regular daily activities, providing opportunities for participation in collective activity, and giving purpose, social status, and feelings of self- worth (see Britt et al, 2001). As Bailey and Madden (2015) note, individuals seek meaningfulness from all forms of work, no matter what kinds of difficult conditions characterize a job. However, the focus of much of the literature on meaningful work has been on the high skill, high reward, ‘value-adding’ economy (Bolton and Houlihan, 2007), assessing the outcomes of processes around meaningful work largely in positive terms, overlooking potential adverse effects. In response, the current stream encourages a critical approach that reveals some of the inherent power relations involved meaningful work. We interrogate the sources of the drive to find meaning in work and the threats to meaning making – and how resilience to these pressures, tensions and threats unfolds.
The drive to create meaning at work may be rooted in normative neo-liberal pressures for autonomous self-determination and self-realisation which, by emphasizing learning and self-development, support individual self-esteem (Hodson, 1996), turning work into an important element of positive, personal identity. On the other hand, such elements create pressures on individuals to derive intrinsic meaning from work, where the encouragement of individuality and self-realisation can be seen as a way of increasing employees’ productivity and commitment (e.g. Bains, 2007). Further, attempts to harness workers’ identities maybe interpreted as a form of exploitation and control (Fleming and Sturdy, 2010). The instrumentalization and control aspects of meaningfulness raises questions as to the social and individual implications of increasingly intense normative expectations of meaningfulness. How do individuals adapt and develop resilience in the face of these normative pressures? Further, while individuals may attempt to draw meaning from work, not all work is equally conducive to meaningfulness. Some forms of work offer fewer opportunities for self-realisation (Simpson et al, 2016; Holtgrewe, 2015) through constrained autonomy, limited opportunities for progression and where the threat of replaceability threatens worker ‘voice’. How is resilience (e.g. to normative pressures to self-actualise; to the material condition of the work) created and maintained? What are the implications for subjective well-being and for work-based meanings and practice?
We welcome in this stream theoretical and/or empirical papers that address these and related issues around resilience, meaningful work and processes of meaning making. Papers might consider:
The meanings created by workers in different (e.g. national, regional, sectoral) work contexts and how these might reflect particular social relationships and relations of power.
The importance of recognition for meaning making; the implications of lack of recognition for resilience and for the meanings created around work.
How individuals confront and respond to normative pressures around work (e.g. in terms of intrinsic meaning making around commitment and individual responsibility); how is resilience to these pressures created and maintained?
How do meanings and practices intersect in different work contexts e.g. how the materiality of work may support and/or undermine meaning making; how meanings may reflect strategies of acceptance, resistance, resilience to work-based pressures.
The different methodological approaches we can take to researching meanings; how we as researchers can develop resilience to the challenges faced.