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The mismanaged soul: Existential labor and the erosion of meaningful work

The mismanaged soul: Existential labor and the erosion of meaningful work

Bailey, Catherine, Madden, Adrian ORCID: 0000-0002-3193-5808, Alfes, Kerstin, Shantz, Amanda and Soane, Emma (2016) The mismanaged soul: Existential labor and the erosion of meaningful work. Human Resource Management Review, 27 (3). pp. 416-430. ISSN 1053-4822 (doi:

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Meaningful work has been defined as work that is personally enriching and that makes a positive contribution. There is increasing interest in how organizations can harness the meaningfulness of work to enhance productivity and performance. We explain how organizations seek to manage the meaningfulness employees experience through strategies focused on job design, leadership, HRM and culture. Employees can respond positively to employers’ strategies aimed at raising their level of experienced meaningfulness when they are felt to be authentic. However, when meaningfulness is lacking, or employees perceive that the employer is seeking to manipulate their meaningfulness for performative intent, then the response of employees can be to engage in “existential labor” strategies with the potential for harmful consequences for individuals and organizations. We develop a model of existential labor, drawing out a set of propositions for future research endeavors, and outline the implications for HRM practitioners.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Existential labor; Meaningful work; Job design; Values
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Faculty of Business > Centre for Work and Employment Research (CREW)
Faculty of Business > Department of Human Resources & Organisational Behaviour
Last Modified: 19 May 2020 14:50

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