Creating Meaningfulness in Public Service Work: A Qualitative Comparative Analysis of Public and Nonprofit Managers' Experience of Work

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American Review of Public Administration

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Public service work and public-serving institutions are evolving by incorporating neoliberal modes of working more and more. Contemporary research oftentimes neglects to account for these changes in how we understand public service work, however. This article draws on the meaningfulness in work and public service motivation literature to explore how public service workers are making sense of their work and work environments to create meaningful work experiences under evolving conditions. The findings from 45 interviews with public and nonprofit managers are presented and compared. The changing world of work has implications for how public and nonprofit workers narrate and find meaningfulness in work but not what they find meaningful about their work. The findings suggest that both public and nonprofit workers create positive meaningfulness in work but in dissimilar ways. The findings also suggest that organizational leaders play a substantial part in workers’ meaningfulness-making process. The findings hold theoretical and practical implications for understanding the role workplaces and organizational leaders play in workers’ experience of meaningful public service work.


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