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Self-transcendence and meaningful work

Self-transcendence and meaningful work

Madden, Adrian ORCID: 0000-0002-3193-5808 and Bailey, Catherine (2019) Self-transcendence and meaningful work. In: Yeoman, Ruth, Bailey, Catherine, Madden, Adrian ORCID: 0000-0002-3193-5808 and Thompson, Marc, (eds.) Oxford Handbook on Meaningful Work. Oxford Handbooks . Oxford University Press, UK. ISBN 978-0198788232 (In Press)

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The topic of meaningful work is rightly of growing interest. Work is transformative - economically, socially, physically and emotionally – and most people spend most of their lives doing it. Regardless of the level of skill involved, Arendt (1958) suggests what makes work distinctive is its potential to create something of value, whose meaning goes beyond the activity of the work itself, even if that value is only transitory. However, the deeper meaning of work, beyond the activity associated with it is not always apparent and we long for ‘a more humanistic work environment, increased simplicity, more meaning, and a connection to something higher’ (Marques et al, 2005: 81). What characterises us as humans is our relentless pursuit or ‘will’ for meaningfulness: we seek something more than just the ‘9 to 5’, a search not just for daily bread but for daily meaning (Terkel, 1974). The philosopher Victor Frankl (1984) perceived the search for meaningfulness as fundamental to the human condition, defining not just ‘who we are’ but helping us to answer the more transcendent question, ‘why we are here?’

Despite the importance of meaningfulness and growing interest in the topic, we still know very little about meaningfulness, about what the experience of meaningfulness involves and how this contributes to our sense of purpose not just in work but also in life overall. Based on earlier research in which we suggested that the transcendent nature of experienced meaningfulness requires much greater attention (Bailey and Madden, 2017), in this chapter, we return to that suggestion and to the proposition that what distinguishes meaningful work from other concepts – including the meaning of work – is the centrality of self-transcendence, an idea most immediately associated with religious and spiritual approaches, commonly featuring in spiritual or philosophical debates about the nature of being itself. Self-transcendence is a complex concept sometimes explained as a ‘way in’ to discover our inner spirituality, as a ‘way out’ to escape the meaninglessness of the world, or as the destination of our transcendent journey, embodied in the idea of perfection or some ‘divine being’. Others however see the transcendent self as a fanciful idea lacking ontological basis.

Despite this lack of consistent usage, the notion of self-transcendence is an idea that has emerged in the meaningful work literature from different disciplinary traditions, featuring in sociological, psychological, managerial and philosophical literature. We explore these in some depth before discussing the key dimensions of self-transcendence identified in the literature and propose that that the temporal and inter-subjective nature of experienced self-transcendence in work does not closely match these dimensions. On this basis, we make some further recommendations for future organizational research.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: Meaningful work; self-transcendence; spirituality; inter-subjectivity
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Faculty of Business > Department of Human Resources & Organisational Behaviour
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2018 16:05
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None

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