Revisiting the Meaning of Meaningful Work

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As management scholars, it is easy to over-romanticize the role of work in the lives of others, without regard for the historical circumstances that gave precedence to the current ideology about work. However, two books by academicians with decidedly different backgrounds draw into question the utility of a pre-industrial work ethic that has continued to define the meaning of work, even as the U.S. economy has evolved from an industrial one into one based on information and service. Although written twenty years apart and critiquing time periods separated by a century, both Daniel Rodgers' The Work Ethic in Industrial America 1850-1920 (1978) and Joanne Ciulla's The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work (2000) show how changes in technology altered not only the way work has done but the very meaning associated with work.