“I Mean, Define Meaningful!”: Accounts of Meaningfulness among Restaurant Employees
Shigihara, Amanda Michiko
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Drawing on ethnographic data collected over a five-year period, this study addresses the complex topic of what constitutes meaningful lives. This research examines restaurant employees’ accounts of meaningfulness in and outside their workplaces. The meaning they ascribe to their jobs and activities external to work reveals five categories of meaningfulness: Helping, Mentoring, Expanding, Belonging, and Supplementation. Regardless of popular opinion, which marks restaurant work as meaningless, the data show how and why restaurant employees construct meaningfulness from the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards of their jobs. Additionally, this investigation sheds light on how social constructions of meaning have the potential to contribute to and diminish one’s sense of meaningfulness. This study provides a more comprehensive and inclusionary perspective of the related concepts of meaning, meaningfulness, and meaningful work. Specifically, meaningfulness exists in quotidian and extraordinary experiences, and the workers engage in, understand, and appreciate both.