The changing meaning and meaningfulness of work through sensemaking

A systematic literature review




meaning of work, meaningful work, job crafting, sensemaking, systematic literature review


The fourth industrial revolution, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic crisis are generating major changes in the way people work, subsequently affecting its meaning and meaningfulness. In this literature review, the authors examine how research conducted between 2000 and 2022 explored the impact of disruptive events on the meaning and meaningfulness of individuals’ work. Using a systematic literature review method, 18 empirical studies were analysed. The main characteristics of meaningfulness were identified, most of which were associated with positive concepts: positive value, impact, or feeling. Research has mainly examined the impact of negative events. The results suggest that both negative and positive feedback have an impact on the experience of meaningfulness at work, triggering a sensemaking process. The work environment and the manager play a crucial role in ensuring that negative or ambivalent feedback also leads to an increase in meaningfulness at work.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Klaudia Szőts-Kováts, Corvinus University of Budapest

assistant professor

Katalin Bácsi, Budapest Business School

college associate professor

Vanda Harmat, Corvinus University of Budapest

assistant lecturer


Allan, B. A., Batz-Barbarich, C., Sterling, H. M., & Tay, L. (2019). Outcomes of meaningful work: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Management Studies, 56(3), 500-528.

Aguinis, H., & Glavas, A. (2019). On corporate social responsibility, sensemaking, and the search for meaningfulness through work. Journal of Management, 45(3), 1057-1086.

Cao, M., Zhao, S., Lv, H., & Wei, D. (2022). Can we have our cake and eat it too? Corporate social responsibility and employees’ eudaimonic well‐being and performance. Business Ethics, the Environment & Responsibility, 31(4), 1040-1052.

Cascón-Pereira, R., Chillas, S., & Hallier, J. (2016). Role-meanings as a critical factor in understanding doctor managers’ identity work and different role identities. Social Science & Medicine, 170, 18-25.

Cheney, G., Zorn Jr, T. E., Planalp, S., & Lair, D. J. (2008). Meaningful work and personal/social well-being organizational communication engages the meanings of work. Annals of the International Communication Association, 32(1), 137-185.

Czirfusz M. (2021) A COVID–19-válságkezelés és a dolgozók helyzetének átalakulása a magyarországi feldolgozóiparban. Budapest: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Delroisse, S., Rimé, B., & Stinglhamber, F. (2022). Quality of social sharing of emotions alleviates job burnout: The role of meaning of work. Journal of Health Psychology, 28(1), 61-76.

Ericsson, U., & Augustinsson, S. (2015). The role of first line managers in healthcare organisations – A qualitative study on the work life experience of ward managers. Journal of Research in Nursing, 20(4), 280-295.

Eurofound (2014). Working Conditions and Job Quality: Comparing Sectors in Europe. Overview Report, 66.

Fink, A. (2005). Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

Frémeaux, S., & Pavageau, B. (2022). Meaningful leadership: how can Leaders contribute to meaningful Work? Journal of Management Inquiry, 31(1), 54-66.

Foldy, E. G., Goldman, L., & Ospina, S. (2008). Sensegiving and the role of cognitive shifts in the work of leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(5), 514-529.

Isaksen, J. (2000). Constructing meaning despite the drudgery of repetitive work. Journal of humanistic Psychology, 40(3), 84-107.

Jiang, W. Y. (2021). Sustaining meaningful work in a crisis: adopting and conveying a situational purpose. Administrative Science Quarterly, 66(3), 806-853.

Kundra, S., & Dwivedi, R. (2022). Sensemaking of COVIDian Crisis for Work and Organization. Philosophy of Management, 22, 129-147.

Lysova, E. I., Fletcher, L., & El Baroudi, S. (2022). What enables us to better experience our work as meaningful? The importance of awareness and the social context. Human Relations.

Martela, F., & Pessi, A. B. (2018). Significant work is about self-realization and broader purpose: Defining the key dimensions of meaningful work. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 363.

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(1), 11-37.

Melo, N., Dourado, D., & Andrade, J. (2021). Reclaiming cognitive crafting: an integrative model of behavioral and cognitive practices in job crafting. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 29(5), 1302-1320.

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(1), 77-90.

Mitra, R., & Buzzanell, P. M. (2017). Communicative tensions of meaningful work: The case of sustainability practitioners. Human Relations, 70(5), 594-616.

Müller, M., Huber, C., & Messner, M. (2019). Meaningful work at a distance: A case study in a hospital. European Management Journal, 37(6), 719-729.

Okoli, C., & Schabram, K. (2010). A guide to conducting a systematic literature review of information systems research.

Peng, A. C., Lin, H. E., Schaubroeck, J., McDonough III, E. F., Hu, B., & Zhang, A. (2016). CEO intellectual stimulation and employee work meaningfulness: The moderating role of organizational context. Group & Organization Management, 41(2), 203-231.

Pistrui, B., & Harmat, V. (2022). A szolgáltató robotok definiálása és alkalmazási lehetőségei az üzleti szervezetekben: Szisztematikus irodalmi áttekintés. Vezetéstudomány, 53(1), 58-68.

Riasnugrahani, M., & Riantoputra, C. D. (2017). Spiritual Crafting: Another Strategy to Transform the Meaning of Work. In International Conference on Business and Management Research (pp. 435-447). New York: Atlantis Press.

Roberson, L. (1990). Functions of work meanings in organizations: Work meanings and work motivation. In A. P. Brief & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Meanings of occupational work: A collection of essays (pp. 107– 134). New York: Lexington Books.

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.

Rothausen, T. J., Henderson, K. E., Arnold, J. K., & Malshe, A. (2017). Should I stay or should I go? Identity and well-being in sensemaking about retention and turnover. Journal of Management, 43(7), 2357-2385.

Sahay, S., & Dwyer, M. (2021). Emergent Organizing in Crisis: US Nurses’ Sensemaking and Job Crafting During COVID-19. Management Communication Quarterly, 35(4), 546-571.

Schabram, K., & Maitlis, S. (2017). Negotiating the challenges of a calling: Emotion and enacted sensemaking in animal shelter work. Academy of Management Journal, 60(2), 584–609.

Schnell, T., Höge, T., & Pollet, E. (2013). Predicting meaning in work: Theory, data, implications. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 543-554. 830763

Scott, K. S. (2019). Making sense of work: finding meaning in work narratives. Journal of Management & Organization, 28(5), 1057-1077.

Szőts-Kováts, K. (2012). Mit nyújt a jelentésadás perspektívája a munka jelentésének kutatásában? Vezetéstudomány, 43(7-8), 68-77.

van Zoonen, W., Rice, R. E., & Ter Hoeven, C. L. (2022). Sensemaking by employees in essential versus nonessential professions during the COVID-19 crisis: a comparison of effects of change communication and disruption cues on mental health, through interpretations of identity threats and work meaningfulness. Management Communication Quarterly, 36(2), 318-349.

Vuori, T., San, E., & Kira, M. (2012). Meaningfulnessmaking at work. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, 7(2), 231- 248.

Wang, Y., Lau, D. C., & Kim, Y. (2021). How and when occupational identity threat leads to job crafting and positive outcomes. Academy of Management Proceedings, 1, 11579.

Weick, KE. (1969). The Social Psychology of Organizing. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Weick, KE. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations (Vol. 3). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Wrzesniewski, A., Dutton, J. E., & Debebe, G. (2003). Interpersonal sensemaking and the meaning of work. Research in Organizational Behavior, 25, 93- 135.

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(1), 21-33.




How to Cite

Szőts-Kováts, K., Bácsi, K., & Harmat, V. (2023). The changing meaning and meaningfulness of work through sensemaking : A systematic literature review. Vezetéstudomány Budapest Management Review, 54(7-8), 121–132.