Exploring academics’ perception of work meaningfulness

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Miranda, Joanna Claire (2017) Exploring academics’ perception of work meaningfulness. Other Degree thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis is an exploratory investigation into aspects of work meaningfulness among academics currently employed in Australian Universities. It is important to understand the level of work meaningfulness for practising academics in the rapidly changing context of Higher Education, because academics have been historically, and still are, the foundation of the institution of the University. The reputation of a University lies fundamentally in the work of its academic staff, and any significant disruption in the conduct of their work will clearly impact organisational performance. In this respect, Kahn (1990, 1992), in developing and testing the job diagnostic model previously developed by Hackman and Oldham (1975), found that academics’ level of work meaningfulness impacted severely on work engagement which, in turn, influenced work productivity and hence organisational performance. In this thesis, a qualitative approach, guided by a Symbolic Interaction theoretical perspective, was undertaken using in-depth interviewing in order to determine what promotes and what impedes academics’ work meaningfulness. The Health Belief Model (Nutbeam, Harris & Wise 2010), was used to develop the interview questions, to identify the perceived existing work place obstacles that were eroding work meaningfulness, and to understand the barriers to redressing resultant negative situations. Informants consisted of sixteen academics of various positions from selected universities within Melbourne, Australia. The informants were male and female from high and low ranked universities, and were purposefully selected using nonprobability sampling methods. The findings show that, due to recent government policies involving cutbacks to education and research funding, universities have implemented a business model in order to be self-financing, which has quickly evolved into staff feeling that universities are becoming profit-making institutions. The resulting corporate style of management has encouraged unfamiliar types of competition between universities, and has instilled fear in staff for participating truthfully in opportunities for providing suggestions for institutional improvement. This has cumulatively resulted in negative outcomes such as loss of congeniality between staff, and the feeling that there is too much academic leniency for students, to the point that many academics have deemed that it has devalued education. These outcomes have resulted in academics distrusting their universities, many consequently feeling stressed, with a few even facing mind health issues which have impacted on their work meaningfulness. The introduction of the corporate model was also perceived to be the reason for increased workloads, for unfair remuneration schemes and for impediments to work/life balance. A major finding of the work was that what significantly impedes work meaningfulness for academics are the blockages which prevent them from providing quality education for their students, and this supersedes all other negative aspects of their job. It was also evident that the current move to using a corporate model into the university environment was, in itself not seen as a problem. However, the perception that the drive for profit has superseded the importance of the quality of education and the excellence of future graduates, was felt to be the real problem. This was particularly so for those academics who did not see themselves in any career other than being an academic.

Additional Information

Doctorate in Business Administration

Item type Thesis (Other Degree thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/38658
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education
Historical > FOR Classification > 1503 Business and Management
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > College of Business
Keywords work meaningfulness; job satisfaction; academics; universities; higher education; corporate model; business model; health belief model; Melbourne; Australia
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