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Catherine (née Truss) Bailey

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Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden

Research has shown that meaningful work is important to individuals, organisations and society. However, there is a risk that contemporary challenges in the world of work such as globalisation, digitisation, increasing precarity and new business models that upturn the employment relationship may render work meaningless to individuals. Through tracing the history of meaningful work in the philosophy, ethics, sociology, psychology and management studies literatures, we find that meaningfulness has been interpreted in widely differing ways. Generally, though, the evidence base suggests that meaningfulness is associated with a range of positive outcomes, but there is also the risk that the pursuit of meaningfulness may draw people into working practices that are harmful to their wellbeing. Gaps within our understanding of the nature and experience of meaningfulness suggest that this is an area with rich opportunities for further research endeavours that connect meaningfulness with new forms of employment.

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Adrian Madden, Catherine Bailey, Luke Fletcher and Kerstin Alfes

Evidence-based management is an approach to establishing ‘best evidence’ which developed from approaches in medical research in the form of systematic reviews. Its goal is to identify and verify relevant and reliable evidence. Interest in the approach has grown in the management field and new techniques have emerged to support this. We tested one of these techniques - narrative evidence synthesis - as a way to systematically identify and evaluate the evidence on employee engagement. Unlike systematic review, narrative evidence synthesis seeks to explain the effects and the contexts of research studies, to ‘tell the story’ of the research, through plausible explanation. However, it is a technique that has a number of strengths and weaknesses, not least placing overwhelming demands on researchers that are difficult to manage. We describe the use of this technique in some depth and the learning that arose from it.