7 December 2021, 15 - 16.30 

Marya Besharov 2019 passport size.jpg

Meaning, Mission, and Measurement: How Organizational Performance Measurement Shapes Perceptions of Work as Worthy

Marya Besharov

Saïd Business School,

University of Oxford

A compelling organizational mission can contribute to employees’ sense of work as worthy and thereby meaningful. Yet realizing this potential depends on whether and how the mission is conveyed to employees and connected to their day-to-day work, with organizational performance measurement practices playing a critical but poorly understood role. To develop empirically grounded insights into how measurement practices shape individuals’ perceptions of work as worthy, we leverage a qualitative, inductive study of two UK social enterprises. We find that employees’ encounters with measurement practices both affirm and challenge perceptions of work as worthy by influencing whether employees can accomplish their work tasks, see the impact of their work, and have a credible and valued voice in their interpersonal interactions. Building on these findings, we develop a model that theorizes practical, existential, and relational pathways through which measurement encounters create ongoing expansions and contractions of work worthiness. Taken together, our findings and model broaden understandings of the sources and processes of meaningful work, develop a dynamic conception of meaningfulness, and point toward a more agentic view of organizational performance measurement processes.