April 2024  -  Research Express

Evgenia Lysova Talks About her Research on Meaningful Work and Careers

Dr. Evgenia Lysova is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the department of Management and Organization, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 

In this second episode of Research Express, Disrupt Your Career speaks with Evgenia about her research on meaningful work and careers. A shortened edited version of our conversation with Evgenia follows.

Why did you get involved in the direction of research on meaningful work and careers? 

This is where my passion really lies. I’m very much interested in trying to understand how can we help individuals within organizations to experience more meaningfulness in their daily work, and also eventually to build meaningful careers more on a sustainable fashion. I’m very interested in what individuals can do, but also what can organizations do, how they can enable that processes. With regards to what I call more sustainable pursuit of meaningfulness, I’m particularly interested in trying to explain what can actually help us to keep experiencing meaningfulness, because even if you work in a job that’s supposed to be very meaningful – which we can immediately think of being a healthcare professional, or a firefighter – even those people in those kinds of position could have struggles with actually experiencing meaningfulness, in their work. Because the way I look at meaningfulness is very much where the individual perceives or experiences his or her work as meaningful. So how can we actually make sure that we sustain it on a daily basis, that we are able to maintain those, and cope with absence of meaningfulness, this is where my biggest motivation lies in at this point of time.

Let’s look at some of the main learnings, messages and ideas that have come out of this recent research. What’s emerging and what would you like to share with our audience?

The fact is actually there is not so much happening in terms of the research in this area. The reason for that is that often meaningfulness or meaning are indeed seen as more static. There’s always an expectation that if you have a meaningful job, you continue to do a meaningful job. So there has been some development now and I, for example, wrote an interesting paper with my co-authors Luke Fletcher and Sabrine El Baroudi where we actually try to explore what are those factors that contribute on the individual level to the boosts of meaningfulness on a daily basis. This is an important one and that relates to a partly very practical insight that I can share as well. We found out that people will find themselves in the state of awareness – and awareness is where you actually pay attention  to your internal values, beliefs on the internal world and what is happening outside of you being in the state of awareness on a daily basis – actually it can enable you to pay more attention to what is going on in the environment, but also how you react to that. And through being in the state of awareness, you actually can be more cognitively flexible, see more opportunities, how you can overcome challenging situations at work, things that have happened to you, or those kinds of things that make you cognitively flexible and make you feel a search for creative solutions to this problem. Through this, you’re also able to see more opportunities to create meaningfulness for yourself. So what we were seeing is that particularly through the sense of experiencing being in a state of awareness, you are able to experience boosts of meaningfulness. I always say one of the things is that practically we could do – and I was very honestly not good at that – after this research, I really learned that because it’s so important to start practicing myself to really paying attention to what’s going on also in the moment, with me when my experiences and pay attention to what is happening in the context. 

What is happening in the context is another important thing, because we saw that, particularly the communications we have with other people on the work floor, they make such an important influence and how we also feel ourselves but also in terms of how much meaning we experience. If you find yourself in the state of awareness and you have people around you, that actually send you positive cues, in terms of “you really matter, you’re really worth it; we really care for you; we will provide you safe experience”, that will help you to actually overcome potentially these ambiguous stressful events you’re going through, and express more meaningfulness in your work as a result. 

What can organizations do from their side? Most companies don’t understand what positive role they could play proactively in helping people manage their careers and to find more meaning and joy. What have you uncovered in your research that can help us understand more about what organizations could be doing? 

Thisis nicely put because despite the fact that meaningfulness is something that an individual experiences, that it’s up to the individuals to find or experience meaningfulness at the work floor, their organizations play an important role, because they create conditions for this meaningfulness to be found. So here, you can think about the idea of this having a nice social context, where people are there to provide each other feedback, listen actively, and those kinds of things. So a social context that helps people to share the experiences, give each other feedback, is one of the ways that organizations can contribute. Clearly, leaders play an important role in there. We’re not particularly talking about having a particular style. It’s more about the kinds of behaviors you will also foster having these conversations with individuals, help them really when we think about careers – we’re talking about disruptive careers right at this point of time – so how about careers being there for a person and really help the person understand what this person needs to self-realize, self-actualize. This is so important, because meaningfulness is not only about making an impact in a certain way to society or help colleagues, but it’s also about being your best self at work. This is where the leader, together with HR and available support could be very valuable in helping out in this regard. 

Another important point is stimulating more in a proactive way to think or look at your job. You might have heard about the notion of job crafting and how you craft, how you look at your work. Having autonomy, even being aware of having the autonomy to take a moment and reflect on what is going on at this point of time in your life and your work, is also an important thing organizations can do. 

Going back to the leaders, and it’s partly related to the organization, is this idea of organizational purpose. Many organizations right now have a purpose, or they currently want to set up a purpose. But then the question is: Does this purpose really resonate with the individual? What is the role of the leader to connect this purpose, helping individuals to actually find meaning through being part of a valuable organization? That’s another important element as well. What I see the research that I’m currently doing is that often the meaningfulness and the way organizations can impact is actually through very small things. Little things, such as giving a sense of appreciation, or really paying attention to people, these may seem to be very trivial, but so impactful, and so much needed when it’s not there. 

  • Listen to the full podcast episode
  • See Evgenia’s personal profile
  • Read Evgenia’s paper with her co-authors Luke Fletcher and Sabrine El Baroudi on what enables us to better experience our work as meaningful

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