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The Role of Occupations in Shaping Personal Work Schemas and the Meaning of Work. M. Teresa Cardador Michael G. Pratt University of Illinois Meaning Meeting March 31, 2007. What We Need. General feedback Does this make sense? What is the most exciting / interesting?

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the role of occupations in shaping personal work schemas and the meaning of work

The Role of Occupations in Shaping Personal Work Schemas and the Meaning of Work

M. Teresa Cardador

Michael G. Pratt

University of Illinois

Meaning Meeting

March 31, 2007

what we need
What We Need
  • General feedback
    • Does this make sense?
    • What is the most exciting / interesting?
  • Given that we have to collect more data, on what specific areas should we focus?
  • Our “game plan” is to show some of our data and findings – but leave a lot of time for discussion.
  • Work in organizations is increasingly performed by those in professions and other occupations (Wallace, 1995)
  • We know relatively little about the “micro-level” consequences of one’s occupation (cf. Ibarra, 1999; Pratt, et al., 2006) for shaping how individuals experience their work (i.e., what is meaningful?)
  • Meaning in and at work is linked to physical and psychological health (Baumeister, 1991; Ryff & Singer, 1998; Wrzesniewski, et al., 1997), enhanced motivation, performance (Roberson, 1990) and attachment (Ashforth & Pratt, 2003; Pratt, 1998)

Our purpose was to build theory at the intersection of occupations and meaning making / meaning of work

  • Qualitative, comparative research design
  • Semi-structured interviews with individuals from 3 occupational groups
  • Looking across occupations allowed us to detect the role of occupation in influencing how workers construct their work
data and analysis
Data and Analysis
  • Data Collected:
    • Advanced Practice Nurses (9)
    • Police Officers (8)
    • Entrepreneurs (7)
  • Groups chosen using a purposeful sampling approach:
    • Expression of strong occupational identities - contexts where identity dynamics may be visible (Eisenhardt, 1989);
    • Differences (education, training, organizational structure, and personal characterizations of work) would make inter-occupational differences easier to identify
  • Analysis: inductive analytic approach taking iterative steps between the data and the emerging set of theoretical ideas (Miles & Huberman; 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
  • Overview of the (3) Occupations
advanced practice nurses
Advanced Practice Nurses
  • Functions: direct care, facilitate functioning of the unit, education, research, professional leadership
  • Higher level knowledge and skills – practice with autonomy
  • Advanced education and clinical training beyond the RN

Other Characteristics: (Allen, 2007; Gardner, Change & Duffield, 2007)

  • Heavily female dominated - stereotypical view that nursing is associated with a caring instinct
  • Practice has evolved to “fill the gaps” in the health care system; high coordination among occupational groups
  • The relationship with patients is at the heart nursing claims to specialized expertise
police officers
Police Officers
  • Functions: order maintenance, law enforcement and service
  • Successful completion of required course of instruction for law enforcement officers approved home state

Characteristics: (Brown, 1988; Dick, 2000; Manning, 1995; Paoline, 2003)

  • Unique coercive authority over citizens
  • Highly stressful and unpredictable – presence of danger/violence
  • Collective culture: helps to buffer strains that officers face daily
  • High level of autonomy and decision making
  • Perception that no one really understands the real nature of police work
  • Functions: Organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a (new) business venture

Facilitating factors: (Luchsinger & Bagby, 2001; Olm & Eddy, 1985; Rose & Unwala, 1986)

  • Ambitious and competitive; an unusual degree of determination
  • Self generating enthusiasm for product or process
  • Willingness to take calculated risks
  • Questioning status quo
  • Frustrated by bureaucratic systems
  • Motivated by problem solving, effecting change, innovation
preliminary findings linking occupations and meaning
Preliminary Findings:Linking Occupations and Meaning


  • character-based
  • task-based





What I Need

For Work Meaning



Meaning of Work

role orientation
Role Orientation
  • One’s unique approach to their occupational role (Parker, 2000)
  • ROs are malleable - can be influenced by both personal and situational factors(Parker, et al., 1997)
  • Role are a central anchor for the construction of self schemas(Stryker, 1980)
role orientation dimensions how do i describe my work
Role Orientation DimensionsHow do I describe my work?
  • Self vs. Other: Degree to which one describes work in terms of benefits to self or others
  • Process vs. Outcome: Degree to which one describes work in terms of process or outcome
  • Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Reward: Degree to which one describes work as associated with internal or external rewards
role orientation self vs other
Role Orientation:Self vs. Other
  • Self: “Okay, this is driven by the scientific/technical side. It’s typically summed up by the old saying, you know, ‘to go where no one has gone before…You know, it’s kind of like, ooh, this is cool! But, again, that factor of being able to do something and not being afraid to do something.” (E, M)
  • Other:“…it’s rewarding when you have somebody and they get better. You know, it feels good, and it feels good to nurture. It feels good to be able to sit down with a family and just let them vent, and empathize and try to solve their problems or try to help them get through their problems.” (APN, F)
role orientation process vs outcome
Role Orientation:Process vs. Outcome
  • Process: “For me, I enjoy going out and literally picking up the pieces of the puzzle and trying to put it together and trying to get in the mind of whoever did the crime…I also, like I mentioned earlier, really enjoy not knowing from one second to the next what’s gonna happen, you know, being able to just at a moment’s notice have to, you know, snap into one particular role of the job. That, to me, is huge, and I’ve always said, you know, I can never have a job where it’s just gonna be the same thing over and over and over. It would just drive me nuts. And that’s why this job really appeals to me.” (PO, F)
  • Outcome: “We had a pretty audacious vision to build, you know, [company] is just a little bit along the way of where we ultimately want to be impacting our market place and what not. So that is a piece of it. The vision, in and of itself, I think is one that’s pretty meaningful, too. I mean, our work is used, our instruments are used in a lot of disease research and ultimately disease treatments. And so, we literally do have the opportunity quote/unquote change the world with kind of what we’re doing.” (E, M)
role orientation intrinsic vs extrinsic reward
Role Orientation:Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Reward
  • Intrinsic Reward:“The satisfaction of knowing that, you know, you did what you were supposed to do to make things a little better. And you can’t change everything, but you know, you can make a significant amount of change in just what you do.” (M, PO)
  • Extrinsic Reward: “I work for money. In software, I definitely work for money…I guess my 20-year career in software has always been for money, to make a living.” (E, M)
role orientation and personal work schema
Role Orientation and Personal Work Schema

Work Schema:

  • System of beliefs about a particular domain (Markus, 1997)
  • Schemas function as an organizing framework for a person’s thoughts, feelings and experience in a particular behavioral domain (Markus & Wurf, 1987)

One’s unique approach to their role was linked to personal constructions of work – work schemas.

work schemas how do i view my work
Work SchemasHow do I view my work?
  • Engaging: Individuals describe work as personally enjoyable, interesting, challenging, and rewarding. These factors stem largely from work tasks themselves.
  • Purposeful: Individuals describe work in terms of making a difference to others in some way – its outcomes are valuable or important and it contributes to something larger than oneself.
  • Relational: Individuals describe work primarily in terms of the relationships involved. Work provides an avenue for the development and maintenance of meaningful personal relationships.
  • Instrumental: Individuals describe work as a means to another end (e.g., financial, lifestyle, keeping busy). NOTE: While almost all participants claimed to value money, some emphasized this more than others. Those who considered it their central reason for working were considered to have an Instrumental Schema.
work schemas cont
Work Schemas (cont.)
  • Most had a dominant work schema, with elements of others
  • While these schemas surfaced in all occupations, prevalence differed across occupation
illustrative quotes work schemas
Illustrative QuotesWork Schemas

Engaging: “I just love dong this. It’s fun, it’s a challenge. It’s neat to see what we’ve built. It’s incredibly rewarding.” (E, M)

Purposeful:“I’d like to make a difference…I feel like I’d like to contribute. I wanna have a hand in how things are done, because I want it to go how I think it should go. Instituting change is a very important thing for me, or to maintain standards, high standards…” (APN, F)

illustrative quotes work schemas1
Illustrative QuotesWork Schemas

Relational: “I really like caring for people, and so, it’s hard for me to imagine not doing that…I guess I do have the ability to, you know, talk to people or talk them into things or help them understand, you know, stuff one way or the other, and convince them to do things… It’s really important to us to have those kinds of relationships. You know, you get really involved with your patients.” (APN, F)

Instrumental: “Well…you need to sustain yourself and your family, so you need the money, but…I like to keep busy, I like to do things, I like to challenge myself. It’s different everyday. It’s something different. I mean if I didn’t work, I’d just be doing the same TV Maury Povitch show everyday….not doing anything just gets really boring. This job is definitely not boring.” (PO, M)

work schemas and meaning of work
Work Schemas and Meaning of Work
  • One’s work schema was associated with the meaning ascribed to one’s work
  • Both were influenced by one’s occupation
relationship between work schemas and meaning needs
Relationship between Work Schemas and “Meaning Needs”
  • Schemas determine the type of information attended to and the importance attached to it (Markus, 1977)
  • People tend to seek information about and from others that is related to their self-schema (Markus & Wurf, 1987)
  • Meaning needs varied depending on the work schema held by the individual
illustrative quotes
Illustrative Quotes
  • Purposeful/from Organization: “I think that the vision and the mission have become very corporate, very business-oriented, and they’ve really moved away from…I mean, I think that they attempt to say the right things, but I think they don’t walk their talk. And so, I think that I would like to see them make strides to, you know, really own the work they put out there.” (APN, F)
  • Instrumental/from Organization: “I think I always struggle with the issue of, you know, we come and we give patient information or we go with information to providers, trying to help them, give them the information, that if they read it, would provide them with good knowledge to make informed clinical decisions. And oftentimes that information is not valued or reviewed.” (APN, F)
  • Occupations matter. Shape occupational identities, roles, schemas and ultimately, meaning
  • Development of “work schemas”
  • Relationship of our research to work orientation - may present a nuanced view of how these are shaped
what we need1
What We Need
  • General feedback
    • Does this make sense?
    • What is the most exciting / interesting?
  • Given that we have to collect more data, on what specific areas should we focus?