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

Katie Bailey, Adrian Madden, Kerstin Alfes, Amanda Shantz, Emma Soane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Citations (Scopus)


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 textquotedblleftexistential labortextquotedblright 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.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)416-430
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016

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