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What makes work meaningful and why economists should care about it

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  • Nikolova, Milena
  • Cnossen, Femke

Abstract

We demonstrate why meaningful work, i.e. job-related activities that individuals view as purposeful and worthwhile, matters to labour economists. Building on self-determination theory, which specifies the roles of autonomy, competence, and relatedness as preconditions for motivation, we are the first to explore the determinants of work meaningfulness. Specifically, using three waves of the European Working Conditions Survey, we show that autonomy, competence, and relatedness explain about 60% of the variation in work meaningfulness perceptions. Meanwhile, extrinsic factors, such as income, benefits, and performance pay, are relatively unimportant. Meaningful work also predicts absenteeism, skills training, and retirement intentions, which highlights the concept’s economic significance. We provide new insights that could help organise the future of work in a meaningful and dignifying way and propose concrete avenues for future research on meaningful work in economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Nikolova, Milena & Cnossen, Femke, 2020. "What makes work meaningful and why economists should care about it," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:65:y:2020:i:c:s0927537120300518
    DOI: 10.1016/j.labeco.2020.101847
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    Cited by:

    1. Carol Graham, 2005. "The Economics of Happiness," World Economics, World Economics, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 6(3), pages 41-55, July.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Meaningful work; Motivation; Non-monetary benefits of work; Labour economics; Labour market outcomes; Self-determination theory;

    JEL classification:

    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J30 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - General
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions
    • J81 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards - - - Working Conditions
    • I30 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • M50 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - General

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