The Role of Meaningful Work in Employees’ Work-Related and General Well-being

Jessica van Wingerden, Joost van der Stoep


This study examines the impact of meaningful work on employees’ work-related well-being (measured as high levels of work engagement and low levels of burnout) and subsequently on employees’ general well-being (that is happiness). Based on the literature on meaningful work and the job demands-resources theory, we hypothesize that meaningful work has a positive relationship with an employee’s general well-being and that this relation is mediated by both increased levels of work engagement and decreased levels of burnout. In order to test the hypothesized relations, we conducted a bootstrapping analysis using a sample of 1 892 employees working in various organizations and occupations in The Netherlands. The results of the analysis provide support for the hypothesized relations, indicating an important role for meaningful work in the on-going pursuit of well-being at home and at work. The main theoretical, practical, and methodological implications of this study are discussed. 

Full Text:



Anderson, L. (1996). Employee cynicism: An examination using a contract violation framework. Human Relations, 49, 1395-1418.

Argyle, M. (2013). The psychology of happiness. Routledge.

Bakker, A. B. (2011). An evidence-based model of work engagement. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20, 265–269.

Bakker, A.B., & Demerouti, E. (2008). Towards a model of job engagement. Career Development International, 13, 209-223.

Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2014). Job demands-resources theory. In C. Cooper and P. Chen (Eds.), Wellbeing: A complete reference guide (pp. 37-64). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Sanz-Vergel, A. I. (2014). Burnout and work engagement: The JD-R approach. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1, 389–411.

Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2002). The pursuit of meaningfulness in life.

Bennett, N., & Lemoine, G.J. (2014). What a difference a word makes: Understanding threats to performance in a VUCA world. Business Horizons, 57, 311-317.

Blomberg, K., James, I., & Kihlgren, A. (2013). Meanings over time of working as a nurse in elderly care. The Open Nursing Journal, 7, 107-113.

Blustein, D.L. (2008). The role of work in psychological health and well-being. A conceptual, historical, and public policy perspective. American Psychologist, 63, 228-240.

Cartwright,S., & Holmes, N. (2006). The meaning of work: The challenge of regaining employee engagement and reducing cynicism. Human Resource Management Review, 16, 199-208.

Cascio, W.F. (2003). Responsible restructuring: Seeing employees as assets, not costs. Ivey Business Journal, 68, 1-5.

Chalofsky, N. (2003). An emerging construct for meaningful work. Human Resource Development International, 1, 69-83.

DeHart, D., Webb, J., & Cornman, C. (2009). Prevention of elder mistreatment in nursing homes: Competencies for direct-care staff. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 21, 360-378.

Demerouti, E. & Bakker, A. B. (2011). The Job Demands–Resources model: Challenges for future research. South African Journal of Industrial Psychology, 37, 1-9.

Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). The job demands- resources model of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 499–512.

Frankl, V.E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Pocket Books.

Garrick, A., Mark, A.S., Cathcart, S., Winwood, P.C., Bakker, A.B., & Lushington, K.

(2014). Psychosocial safety climate moderating the effects of daily job demands and

recovery on fatigue and work engagement. Journal of Occupational and

Organizational Psychology, 87, 694-714.

Grant, A.M. (2007). Relational job design and the motivation to make a prosocial difference. Academy of Management Review, 32, 393-417.

Grant, A.M. (2008). The significance of task significance: Job performance effects, relational

mechanisms, and boundary conditions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 108-124.

Grant, A.M., & Parker, S.K. (2009). Redesigning work design theories: The Rise of

Relational and Proactive Perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3, 317-375.

Hackman, J.R. & Oldham, G.R. (1980). Work redesign. Reading, MA: Addison- Wesley.

Hakanen, J., Bakker, A. B. & Schaufeli, W. B. (2006). Burnout and work engagement

among teachers. Journal of School Psychology, 43, 495–513.

Harpaz, I. & Fu, X. (2002). The structure and the meaning of work: A relative stability amidst change. Human Relations, 55, 639-668

Havener, C. (1999). Meaning: The secret of being alive. Beaver’s Pond Press.

Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2017). World happiness report 2017, New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Hills, P., & Argyle, M. (2002). The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire: a compact scale for the measurement of psychological well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 33, 1073–1082.

Holbeche, L., & Springett, N. (2004). In search of meaning at work. Roffey Park Institute, Horsham.

Huta, V., & Ryan, R.M. (2010). Pursuing pleasure or virtue: The differential and overlapping well-being benefits of hedonic and eudaimonic motives. Journal of Happiness Stud., 11, 735-762.

Huta, V., & Waterman, A.S. (2014). Eudaimonia and its distinction from hedonia: Developing a classification and terminology for understanding conceptual and operational definitions. Journal of Happiness Stud., 15, 1425-1456.

Kahn, W.A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33, 692-724.

May, D.R., Gilson, R.L., & Harter, L.M. (2004). The psychological conditions of meaningfulness, safety and availability and the engagement of the human spirit at work. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77, 11-37.

Michaelson, C., Pratt, M.G., Grant, A.M., & Dunn, C.P. (2014). Meaningful work: Connecting business ethics and organization studies. Journal of Business Ethics, 121, 77-90.

Milliman, J., Czaplewski, A. J., & Ferguson, J. (2003). Workplace spirituality and employee work attitudes: An exploratory empirical assessment. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 16(4), 426-447.

Nair, N., & Vohra, N. (2009). Developing a new measure of work alienation. Journal of Workplace Rights, 14, 293-309.

Neck, C. P., & Milliman, J. F. (1994). Thought self-leadership: Finding spiritual fulfilment in organizational life. Journal of managerial psychology, 9(6), 9-16.

Olivier, A. L., & Rothmann, S. (2007). Antecedents of work engagement in a multinational company. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 33(3), 49-56.

Pratt, M.G., & Ashford, B.E. (2003). Fostering meaningfulness in working and at work. In K.

Cameron, J.E. Dutton, & R.E. Quinn (Eds), Positive organizational scholarship:

Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 308-327). San Fransisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Podsakoff, P.M., MacKenzie, S.B., Lee, J., & Podsakoff, N.P. (2003). Common method bias

in behavioral research: A critical review of literature and recommended remedies.

Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 879-903.

Robertson, W.M.P. (2013). Doing meaning: a theoretical and grounded exploration of

workplace relationships and meaningful work (doctoral dissertation Segal Graduate

School): Beedle School of Business Faculty.

Rosso, B.D., Dekas, K.H., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010). On the meaning of work: A theoretical

integration and review. Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 91-127.

Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research

on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141-166.

Schaufeli, W. B., & Bakker, A. B. (2004). Job demands, job resources and their relationship

with burnout and engagement: A multi sample study. Journal of Organizational

Behavior, 25, 293-315.

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Salanova, M. (2006). The measurement of work engagement with a short questionnaire: A cross-national study. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 66, 701-716.

Schaufeli, W.B., Leiter, M.P., Maslach, C., & Jackson, S.E. (1996). The Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey. In C. Maslach, S.E. Jackson, & M.P.

Leiter (Eds.), Maslach Burnout Inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Schaufeli, W.B., & Taris, T.W. (2005). The conceptualization and measurement of burnout: Common ground and worlds apart. Work & Stress, 19, 256-262.

Seligman, M. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.

Shantz, A., Alfes, K., & Truss, C. (2014). Alienation from Work: Marxist Ideologies and 21st Century Practice. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25, 2529-2550.

Steger, M.F., Dik, B.J., & Duffy, R.D. (2012). Measuring meaningful work: The work and meaning inventory (WAMI). Journal of Career Assessment, 20, 322-337.

Tadic, M., Bakker, A.B., & Oerlemans, W.G.M. (2013). Work happiness among teachers: a day reconstruction study on the role of self-confidence. Journal of School Psychology, 51, 735-750.

Thomas, K.W., & Velthouse, B.E. (1990). Cognitive elements of empowerment: An “interpretive” model of intrinsic task motivation. Academy of Management Review, 15, 666-681.

Tims, M., Derks, D., & Bakker, A.B. (2016). Job crafting and its relationship with person-job fit and meaningfulness: A three wave study. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 92, 44-53.

Veenhoven, R. (2008). Healthy happiness. Effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 449-469

Wilson, C.B., & Davies, S. (2009). Developing relationships in long term care environments: The contribution of staff. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 18, 1746-1755.

World Economic Forum (2016). The future of jobs; employment, skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. Cologny/Geneva: World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum (2017). Realizing human potential in the fourth industrial revolution: An agenda for leaders to shape the future of education, Gender and Work. Cologny/Geneva: World Economic Forum.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of management review, 26(2), 179-201.

Wrzesniewski, A., McCauley, C., Rozin, P., & Schwartz, B. (1997). Jobs, careers, and callings: People’s relations to their work. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 21-33.

Yeoman, R. (2014). Meaningful work and workplace democracy: A philosophy of work and a politics of meaningfulness. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the '' domain to your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.

Copyright © Macrothink Institute   ISSN 2162-3058

'Macrothink Institute' is a trademark of Macrothink Institute, Inc.