Meaningful work through social contribution
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Meaningful Work through Social Contribution. M. Teresa Cardador May Meaning Meeting May 15, 2008. Setting the Stage…. Dissertation About half of data collected Just started coding. Overview. Thumbnail sketch of dissertation Preliminary data Reactions to data. Meaning and Contribution.

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Meaningful work through social contribution

Meaningful Work through Social Contribution

M. Teresa Cardador

May Meaning Meeting

May 15, 2008

Setting the stage

Setting the Stage…

  • Dissertation

  • About half of data collected

  • Just started coding



  • Thumbnail sketch of dissertation

  • Preliminary data

  • Reactions to data

Meaning and contribution

Meaning and Contribution

The service we render to others is really the rent we pay for our room on this earth. It is obvious that man is himself a traveler; that the purpose of this world is not “to have and to hold” but to “give and to serve.” There can be no other meaning.

---Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell

Don’t aim at success…For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.

---Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Meaning and contribution through work

Meaning and Contribution through Work

  • Work is a major avenue through which we can improve the lives of others (Baumeister & Vohs, 2002)

  • Workers desire the opportunity to benefit others and find meaning in the ability to do so (Gerber, 2006; Grant, 2007; Martin, 2000; Wrzesniewski, 2003)

Meaningful work through social contribution


Opportunities to experience meaningfulness through a sense of contribution may be harder to come by:

  • Shift to large organizations makes individual contributions more difficult to see/realize (Elliott & Turnbull, 2003)

  • Increased downsizing, contingent, part-time arrangements(Arthur & Rousseau, 1996) have resulted in weakening of attachments to organizations(Bettis, et al., 1992)

  • Workers find it harder to see how personal aspirations connect with social aspirations, or a common good (Bellah, et al., 1985)

Central problem questions

Central Problem/Questions

People desire the opportunity to have a positive impact on others through work, YET

Modern work may make this more difficult to realize

  • How do workers make contributions to others through work?

  • When and why are these contributions meaningful?

  • What factors influence worker ability to experience a sense of contribution?

In short

In Short:

My purpose is to elaborate theory concerning the nature of social contribution through work, the factors which contribute to it, and its relationship to meaningful work

What is social contribution

What is Social Contribution?

  • Occurs when individuals perceive that they make a positive impact on others through work(Keyes, 1998)

    • Includes both obligatory and chosen actions (in-role and extra-role)

    • Perceptual

Research context

Research Context

Banking Industry

  • Workers have opportunity to impact multiple individuals/groups

  • Diversity of missions

    • Common perception that social mission creates potential for meaningful work, and commercial mission equates with concern for money

Contrasting case study eisenhardt 1989 yin 1984 unique mission and ideologies

Contrasting Case Study – (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 1984)unique mission and ideologies

“Credit unions didn't play the, ‘Hey, there's more profit to be had by loosening our [lending] standards because they're member-owned, any dollar that's lost is a dollar of the membership's money, not some faceless shareholder, [so] they don't take the risk."

--WSJ, April 2008

  • Credit Union

  • Commercial Bank

“Banks are conditioned to push a money-making idea until it breaks. Risk management is for the faint of heart and those not driven by massive bonuses for generating profits. It's a system that works for those working the system.”

--WSJ March 2008

Data collection interviews

Data Collection: Interviews

  • Organization

    • Unique missions

  • Hierarchical Position (3)

    • may experience differential levels of social contribution

    • may experience the mission differently

  • Have done the credit union thus far (3 branches, 22 employees)

  • Brief description of credit union

Really really preliminary data

Really, really preliminary data….

  • Targets of social contribution

  • Relationship between social contribution and meaningfulness

  • Organizational influences on sense of contribution

  • A note about the nature of meaningfulness

1 targets of social contribution

1. Targets of Social Contribution

Individuals: Work

  • Members: Individual

  • Coworkers

  • Bosses

  • Peers

  • Other Departments/Organization

  • Subordinates

  • Members: As a group

  • Family

  • Larger community (e.g., strip mall vendors)

Groups: Work

Individuals/Groups: Non-Work

* All social contribution seems to be “local”

Meaningful work through social contribution

2. Relationship Between Social Contribution & Meaningfulness

Types of contribution might be associated with

unique sources of meaningfulness?

It’s everything to know that what I’ve done makes a difference…the importance is, how well did I do with the tools I had? And how well I did is defined by how many people would remember me if I was gone? How many people did I have an influence or a touch or have meaning to? Whether it was for one specific transaction over a length of time - how many people were better because they knew me? How much of what I believed in was I able to impart on others and spread geometrically…I would be lost if I didn’t feel that connection, if I felt like either I was the only one that was gaining because yeah, I’ve become some expert and I was vastly wealthy, but I did so at the expense of others, that wouldn’t do anything for me, and nor would it do anything for me to have all of this knowledge and have the ability, but to not be able to touch anybody with it. (3217)

Meaningful work through social contribution

2. Relationship Between Social Contribution & Meaningfulness

EMPLOYEES: If I just came in here everyday and you didn’t forge any forms of relationships and so forth over time, by the fact that you’re having an impact on somebody else and vice versa, them having an impact on you, I think it would be pretty empty over time. You may as well just work in a room by yourself and not have any interaction with people…I’m with my employees and my peers five days a week and you forge those much deeper relationships. The customer part of it is there—that’s our common bond. Our interests are to take care of the customers and provide them the best service that we can, but the relationships and the real meaning of it all comes from the employees and peers you work with everyday. (3219)

MEMBERS: So, I just feel good knowing that they can come here and not be judged, not be criticized, that it’s kind of a safe place. If you’re ever in the lobby on a payday and you see them, they haven’t seen each other in months and, “Hi, how are you?” and “Where you at now?” It’s their own little family out there, too and it’s nice to see that. And they count the credit union as part of the family, too.(2116)

Meaningful work through social contribution

2. Relationship Between Social Contribution & Meaningfulness

You want them (subordinates) to have that loyalty and that trust and when you can see that happening slowly over time, you know, just what you can do because when you have someone like—I’ll share Mary’s name, she’ll always tell people, “You were the best manager I’ve had and I’ll do anything for you.” Those kinds of things that I don’t expect to hear that, but when she does say it, it’s like, “Wow,” you don’t realize how much you meant to that person or what you did for them. (2116)

I think it makes me feel like a better team player like I’m actually participating and involved in the whole credit union.(1222)

3 organizational influences on sense of contribution

3. Organizational Influences on Sense of Contribution

  • Position: What I do

  • Mission: Why we are here

  • Identity of Members: Who we serve

Position sense of contribution related to opportunities for certain types of contribution

Position & Sense of Contributionrelated to opportunities for certain types of contribution

From the “Top”

It’s meaning on every level. I find meaning in the ability to have some influence and set direction for employees and help them achieve their own career goals. I find meaning in helping set a course for a financial institution that can truly improve the qualities of lives for people that provide a very meaningful service to our society. I look at it as though the men and women of the police department are out doing the things that none of us either can do or want to do to keep us safe and our businesses prosperous. And if we can find a way to take one worry out of their equation, that’s great. And people’s finances, next to their health, tend to be the biggest aspect of their lives. (3217)


…you can really see that you’ve turned someone’s life around—and it’s funny because when somebody is in a horrible credit position, one day you start talking to them and they’re almost embarrassed and their body language shows it and the day after—the day comes where everything’s been completed and we’ve got all the paperwork and we know that these checks are gonna get paid off and we’ve filled out disputes to get their credit repaired, they’re just like—and they’re hugging me and kissing me and saying, “Oh my god, you’re an angel,” that’s what it’s about. You get emotional. It’s pretty powerful. (1115)

Being Caught in the “Middle”

Well, when we went to this whole leadership development program, it just—you would hear the managers of the front office, “Members this and when we do this and we do that” and honestly, back office, we’re in the back office, we’re not in the spotlight, we’re not… So, that’s where that division comes in and I’ve brought that up at our—we have weekly manager meetings and I finally said, “You know, I realize that front office has interaction with the members and I realize that they are a critical part of the organization, but we’re keeping track of all these transactions, we’re also a critical part and I feel like we’re getting shorthanded.” (2120)

Mission sense of contribution provides focus for employees provides clarity for goals and services

Mission & Sense of Contributionprovides focus for employees, provides clarity for goals and services

Yeah, because you have a true picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. If I was sitting there and I was like, “I don’t know what I’m trying to do. I know I’m trying to help people, but I don’t know in what way,” we know in what way. All of us are on the same page of how we’re supposed to help them in their financial needs. (2108)

And again, that mission statement is what I do. There’s no other way to sort of, to put that. My job description says one thing, but really I’m doing that. I’m helping to help them {the members} to be fiscally responsible and help them with products and services.…If it’s our mission then we sort of set up our products and services and culture around that, so that we do have those good results. (2118)

Well, you know what, when I applied here, I just got the feeling that—I don’t know, there was just a feeling that this is the place I think I’d want to work….Maybe because I believe in the mission statement, but even though it’s our mission statement, maybe that’s just how I operate. So to me, I don’t focus on the mission statement because I live it. (1115)

Identity of members sense of contribution facilitates clarity focus sense of caring

Identity of Members& Sense of Contributionfacilitates clarity, focus, sense of caring

Well, for me personally, I’ve always had an affinity for law enforcement. And so again, it’s another example of being able to capitalize on what you’ve done previously and the skills you’ve developed to help somebody that means something to you. I certainly know it would not be the same for me, had I answered an ad for a community credit union…I don’t know that I would get the same gratification and I don’t—I think the ability to create a distinction would be diluted. I think identity is very important.You’ve gotta know who you are and why you’re there and what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for. And any time you take something out of that or water it down a little bit, I think it’s just harder to achieve that. (3217)

I think just because of the way that the members are makes it feel differently, but I’ve worked at other credit unions where we did serve the whole community and I guess it didn’t— what we did there didn’t seem like it has as much impact as what we do here. Like we tailor our services specifically for our members, whereas there we didn’t really have a way to tailor it to specific members because everybody was different, which here they all have the same type of profession, so we can—we know more about the profession and can tailor it more to them. (1101)

..when I have people at my desk, sometimes they need—for some reason, it’s like we are like that bartender or we’re the close psychologist for them—or for me, I don’t know…If you can come here and feel comfortable enough to unload, we’re not gonna turn them away. It’s part of the package. And with the police officer, there’s just not a lot of places they can go to and feel comfortable and at ease and this is a place they do. So, I take pride in that. This is one of the places where they feel—it’s kinda like being at their station.…And they’re very—they don’t trust a lot of people and I think when they do trust you, you know I think it’s just with everything. (1115)

4 a note about the nature of meaningfulness

4. A Note About the Nature of Meaningfulness…

  • For most, not grandiose; rather fleeting, fragile or momentary

  • Meaningfulness is an “emergent accomplishment”

    …but it’s very fleeting because by the nature of what we do, there’s always a next. You keep it and you keep it for that moment, but then there’s always another phone call, there’s always another crisis, there’s always another something and we’re on to the next. So, it can be fleeting. You do sort of experience that job well done— (then) somebody’s yelling at you or you have to do that same situation for the next person. (2118)

  • More “moments” = More meaningfulness?

Concluding thoughts

Concluding Thoughts

  • Reactions?

  • What is the most interesting?

  • What should I follow-up on with contrast organization?

Meaningful work through social contribution


Important dimensions of social contribution

Important Dimensions of Social Contribution

  • Direct Contact

  • Frequent

  • Visible Effects

  • Identity of Member - hero, proud population, don't trust just anyone - feeling that you know them and care about them

  • Nature of service - affects people lives

  • Both in-role/extra-role - proactvity

  • Identity of Recipient - nice versus not nice, treat with respect vs. not – doesn’t change whether you help but HOW you feel about it - impact is socially constructed

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