What makes work meaningful and why economists should care about it

This is an event in the Economics Research Seminar series taking place at Leeds University Business School on 7 November 2018

You are invited to a seminar by Dr Milena Nikolava from the University of Groningen, on ‘What makes work meaningful and why economists should care about it’.

All welcome! Refreshments provided.


Milena Nikolova* and Puck Otten

We show why the concept of meaningful work, i.e., work that the individual views as purposeful and worthwhile and fulfils the need for relatedness, autonomy, and competence, is theoretically and empirically important for economists. Using data on 35 European countries for 2015, we create an index measuring perceptions of meaningful work. We empirically demonstrate that factors related to autonomy, competence, and relationships at work explain 90 percent of the variation in meaningfulness perceptions, while income and benefits do not matter for meaningfulness. We show that our findings are unlikely to be driven by unobservables both by controlling for a rich set of covariates and by using a formal empirical test. Meanwhile, we demonstrate that viewing one’s work as meaningful is related to but distinct from job satisfaction and predicts the number of sick days, the likelihood of reporting that work positively affects health, as well as intended retirement age. As such, meaningful work perceptions complement to the extant job quality measures by providing a more comprehensive view of worker well-being.


For further information, please contact Helen Greaves at h.z.greaves@leeds.ac.uk

About the speaker

Dr Milena Nikolova is an Assistant Professor and Rosalind Franklin Fellow at the University of Groningen (the Faculty of Economics and Business, Global Economics & Management).

Prior to that, she was a Research Associate at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn, Germany, where she is now a Research Fellow. She is also a Nonresident Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Fellow at GLO, and is affiliated with the Happiness Research Organization in Düsseldorf, Germany and the Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Dr Nikolova's research focuses on the well-being causes and consequences of development, labor market arrangements, migration, and institutions. She is interested in rigorous social science research which helps inform public debates and generates social value-added.