Meaningful Work

A key to greater satisfaction and performance for individuals and organizations


What is meaningful work?

People work for many reasons Рsome are obvious (I am paid to work), some are not as obvious (work is where my friends are). Research evidence and case studies testify to the reality that understanding how people approach work and what they get from it is vital to learning how to achieve the best possible outcomes for individuals and organizations. Few other avenues offer as much promise for accomplishing valued outcomes as creating meaning in work Рboth in terms of individual flourishing, citizenship, commitment, and engagement and in terms of long-term, sustainable innovation, culture maintenance, and performance in organizations.

In our research, we have found that meaningful work is a good predictor of desirable work attitudes like job satisfaction. In addition, meaningful work is a better predictor of absenteeism from work than job satisfaction

Where does meaning in work come from?

Meaningful work can come from the individual or the organization.  Some people bring a sense of meaning and mission with them to the workplace, and some organizations excel at creating meaningful workplaces where every employee becomes part of creating success, cohesiveness, and culture at work.

Measuring meaningful work: The Work and Meaning Inventory

We recently developed a new tool for measuring meaningful work. The Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI) assesses three core components of meaningful work: the degree to which people find their work to have significance and purpose, the contribution work makes to finding broader meaning in life, and the desire and means for one’s work to make a positive contribution to the greater good. The WAMI is free for use in research and educational capacities, but it can be used to improve work with individuals and organizations for coaches, counselors, human resource managers, and leaders. Please contact me to obtain permission of commercial uses of the WAMI such as these. The WAMI is currently available in English and German, although Chinese and Dutch translations are in development.

You can learn more about the WAMI here. We review other measures of meaningful work and calling, and provide a case vignette about using the WAMI with individual clients here.

You can download a copy of the WAMI, with scoring instructions and brief comments on interpreting scores here: DOWNLOAD THE WAMI

Steger, M. F., Dik, B. J., Duffy, R. D. (in press). Measuring Meaningful Work: The Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI). Journal of Career Assessment.

Steger, M. F., Dik, B. J., & Shim, Y. (in press). Assessing meaning and satisfaction at work. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of positive psychology assessment (2nd Ed.). Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press.

Littman-Ovadia, H., & Steger, M. F. (2010). Character strengths and well-being among volunteers and employees: towards an integrative model. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 419-430.


My Work

My research and consultation focuses on identifying and cultivating the conditions that enable people to engage in meaningful work. Toward this end, I have developed a multidimensional measure of work meaning, and have engaged in efforts to identify organizations that are succeeding in attracting or cultivating, and retaining, meaning-motivated workers. Part of this work involves understanding the features of these successful organizations and leaders. Another part of this work involves developing interventions to address the needs of organizations interested in increasing their effectiveness, and leaders and employees who either want to experience greater meaning in their own work or more effectively foster meaning in the work of their followers.

Several examples of my scholarly work on this topic can be found as links from my Curriculum Vitae.

Watch a Talk on Meaningful Work

Last year I gave a lecture for the Distance and Professional MBA program at Colorado State University on Meaningful Work. It was pretty weird for me. I was literally standing in an empty room, with a camera perched on the wall behind several rows of chairs and desks. Behind one-way glass, an audio-visual technician monitored everything, but there I was, talking to empty chairs. I thrive on the energy of a crowd, so I missed that, but at least I got to talk about a topic of deep importance to me. Anyway, the Business School has made this lecture freely available, and at risk to my self-esteem, I thought I’d post a link. If you’re curious about my perspective on meaningful work, you can check out this lecture here.


Consultation inquiries can be sent through email (michael _ f _ steger (at) yahoo . com).