Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour
Cognition; Meaning of Work; Nonprofits; Sensemaking; Emotion;
This two-year inductive study of a refugee-resettlement agency examines how employees navigated a workload surge caused by a refugee crisis and sustained the perceived meaningfulness of their work during and after the surge. Employees shifted their conceptualization of meaningfulness from quality to quantity during the surge; post-surge, they again redefined meaningfulness, to encompass both quality and quantity.During these transitions, employees changed how they worked to resettle refugees via three subprocesses: negotiating emotional tension (“how I feel”), adopting a situational purpose (“what my work is for in this situation”), and adjusting their work practices (“what to do to achieve the situational purpose”). Though some refugees who arrived during the surge reported worse outcomes, those who had been told the rationale for employees’ quantity approach to work reported well-being and employment outcomes similar to those of refugees who had arrived during non-surge conditions.The author offers a process model that elucidates how aid workers adapt their enactment of meaningful work in crisis conditions, highlighting finding a situational purpose - the provisional “why” or “for what” of their work in light of a new situation - while navigating a changing work environment.