Can we impact another’s experience of meaning?

Can leaders impact upon another individual’s experience of meaning (in the workplace)?

This is the question I am currently grappling with as part of my MSc research. Whilst much research has been undertaken into positive psychology, happiness and the conditions which enable individuals to flourish including ‘meaning’; alot of the writing around organisational dynamics lacks empirical research, is negative (focused on raising underperformance and so on) or focuses upon organisations creating values and vision for others to work towards. Therefore, it might be valuable to facilitate, through research, an opportunity to identify how positive psychology can impact, in a positive way, an individual’s experience of work. One of the questions I’m curious about is what impact leader’s have on their followers around creating meaning.

People who feel their work is meaningful report greater well-being, view their work as more central and important, place higher value on work and report greater satisfaction. People who feel their work serves a higher purpose also report greater job satisfaction and work unit cohesion (in Steger, Dik and Duffy, 2012). In Steger’s research, he found that meaning was the only reliable predictor of absenteeism – not even job satisfaction was a better predictor.

But are we solely responsible for finding and creating meaning in our lives – or is that something our leaders can (or even should) help us with? For example, do leaders who have a sense of meaning in their work inspire better followership? Do people engaged in meaningful work respond more effectively to leadership? What is the imapct of transformational or charismatic leadership on individuals who place high importance on meaningful work?

These are just some of the many questions to ponder over, the first of which must be to clearly define meaning and meaning at work and how they differ.

May 2013