Walter_Ruttmann_-_CellistWhy should leaders of legal and other professional service organizations use emotional intelligence training to promote meaningfulness? A simple “It works” answers that important, relevant question. This post discusses highlights from a recent case study which provides empirical evidence that emotional intelligence training promotes learning about meaningfulness.

Scholars have documented many features of it which make meaningfulness in work “good for business”. A line of research shows that organizational benefits include “salient outcomes on worker engagement, attachment, motivation, productivity, and satisfaction.” Other research about meaningful work has shown worker personal benefits of “increased happiness, greater longevity and reduced stress and illness”. According to the author of the article featured in this post, considering such important gains, “organizations would benefit from developing work characteristics which promote meaningfulness.” This post discusses how emotional intelligence training can provide such a framework in which organizations and their members can benefit from enhanced meaningfulness at work.

Why Read This Post? For organizations, meaningfulness impacts the bottom line. For workers, meaningfulness enhances work’s purpose and meaning. Workers in legal and other professional services organizations can make their work meaningful. Their day-to-day acts influence the quality of their work. Research noted by the author shows that workers with enhanced existential qualities – meaningfulness in work – can make more significant contributions to their organizations. The research study featured in this post shows how emotional intelligence training provides a useful framework that individuals can use to learn about and to create and develop meaningful work.

This post discusses the concept meaningfulness at work and how emotional intelligence training can promote learning which contributes to meaningful work. We have needs to grow, belong, connect, and develop. A well-established stream of research shows that our work must fulfill those deep, innermost needs, too. A particular type of emotional intelligence training can help workers learn to alter work tasks, relationships, behaviors and mindsets to promote meaning in work and in turn help meet those deepest existential needs. Such enhanced workers make more significant contributions to their organizations. The results of this research suggest that leaders who tap into this type of emotional intelligence training model can enhance their workers’ connections with their deep needs. These enhanced workers help their organization gain an edge over the competition.

Scholarly and practical legal commentary suggests that an existential crisis** has a tight grip on and chokes American law schools, lawyers, and legal employers. Making work more meaningful has never been so important for the profession, the legal academy, and the organizations in which those laborers work in the trenches. Emotional intelligence training, according to a recent study, can help promote learning around meaningful work. Its learning outcomes can help lawyers make their work more meaningful.

Map of meaning

Research Background – Meaningfulness at Work Model. An individual, subjective sense of significance felt about the work tasks that she does in relation to her own personal goals, ideals, and standards captures the essence of meaningful work. The author used a holistic multi-dimensional model* of meaningful work from the perspective and subjective experience of the individual worker as the focus for her training and development case study about emotional intelligence training as a way to foster meaningfulness in work.

The author noted that often organizations lack the resources, or inclination, to fulfill workers’ deeper, existential needs. But, “individuals’ day-to-day acts of meaning making may be just as significant in their contribution to organizational and individual gains”. So, the author designed her case study to consider the individual perspective because “greater understanding of how individuals actively create and develop sources of meaningfulness at work is a topic of considerable interest.” A brief summary of the model’s two themes of the process dimension and associated four factors of the content dimension of meaningful work  follows.

The meaningfulness in work model has two broad themes. The self vs. others and being vs. doing theme describes the dynamic tensions inherent in our search for meaningfulness. The second broad theme involves inspiration and reality, which reflect our need for hope and our need to face our reality. Overall, these process dimensions of the model reflect the dynamic tensions between the search for coherence and meaning, i.e. meet the needs of self versus meet the needs of others and the need for reflection versus the need for action, i.e. relationship between reality and inspiration. Next, the four content dimensions of meaning in the meaningfulness in work model.

The four content dimensions of the meaningfulness in work model capture the richness of meaning that people use to meet their needs to belong, grow, connect with others, and develop. Brief descriptions of each dimension of meaningfulness in work follow.

  • Developing the inner self – inward and reflective; based on ideals of being true to self, wanting to be a good person, achieving your personal greatness, being authentic self by maintaining unique identity; bringing whole self (mind, body, emotions) to work
  • Expressing one’s full potential – active and outward directed; expressing talents, being creative, influencing others, and having a sense of achievement;
  • Unity with others – meaningfulness from working together with others; sense of shared common values, sense of belonging by connection and companionship in work group, and sense of increased power and resourcefulness from group dynamics
  • Serving others – meaningfulness comes from contributing to the wellbeing of others; helping another, supporting others in hard times, providing something of value to other members of your organization

Meaningfulness at workResearch Background – Connections Between Emotional Intelligence and Meaningful Work. Researchers have shown that various features of “mixed” models emotional intelligence have a clear association, i.e. connections, with meaningfulness at work. Several models and related measures of emotional intelligence exist. However, much of the research over the past three decades has focused on two models – ability and mixed. According to the author, recent reviews of the research has provided “evidence that popular (or ‘trait’) EI models contribute to performance and productivity” in commercial settings.

With that background in focus, the author used the Bar-On and Goleman mixed trait models of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman (the Emotional Competence Inventory (ECI)) popularized the emotional intelligence concept in the mid 1990s. Reuven Bar-On (Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i)) developed the first scientifically validated commercially available emotional intelligence assessment in the late 1990s. The author’s research into learning about meaningfulness at work capitalized on connections between it and certain emotional intelligence competencies noted in prior work.

Emotional self-awareness promotes meaningfulness. “We can only know what is meaningful if we recognize and understand the emotions evoked by what is significant in our lives.” We must accurately decipher and use emotional information to choose the best career and do its work successfully. Doing so “can lead to honest and sincere exchanges, enabling interactions to be experienced as genuine and respectful which can generate a sense of belonging.” Such skills promote unity with others. These connections, according to the author, can make our line of work meaningful. Another emotional intelligence skill or competency closely connected with meaningfulness at work relates to self-actualization.

The emotional intelligence skills or competencies of self-actualization have also been linked with meaningfulness. This connection, as variously described by Bar-On and Goleman, involves attempting to realize your potential, searching for a more meaningful life, striving to improve or meet your standard of excellence, and skill in influencing others. According to the author “these themes . . . resonate with evidence-based sources of meaningful work.” A final theme of connectedness between emotional intelligence and learning about meaningfulness at work involves social and interpersonal competencies.

The Goleman and Bar-On models of emotional intelligence include several social and interpersonal skills or abilities which embrace or emphasize civility, service, social responsibility, interpersonal relationships, and the nurturing of social relationships. Social responsibility involves identifying with your social group and cooperating with and helping others. The unity and social connection with coworkers stemming from these emotional intelligence abilities, the author reasoned, contribute to a sense of meaningfulness at work. Empathy, understanding others’ feelings effectively, plays a key part in many of the social competencies. Coupled with emotional self-awareness skills, empathy contributes to relationship building, and promotes unity with others, a key source of work meaningfulness, according to the author.

Research Purpose & Questions, Methods, and Participants. The author utilized the connections between emotional intelligence and meaningfulness at work noted above, and conducted a qualitative case study which explored how emotional intelligence training programs can teach sources of meaningfulness and how training program participants can apply their learning at work. Twenty-seven managers, a majority in mid and senior levels, from a wide variety of industries, including banking, education, medical, and government, participated.

The three voluntary EI training programs used in the study featured either the Bar-On or Goleman emotional intelligence models, or a hybrid of the two. Multiple exercises, instructional sessions, and discussion sessions explored the theme of meaningfulness at work model and aimed to develop various emotional intelligence skills such as emotional awareness, empathy, self-awareness, happiness, achievement drive, and self-actualization, to name a few. The researcher collected study data by observing the EI training as a “fully immersed participant” and by taking detailed notes and keeping a participation journal and reflection diary, interviewed the EI trainers, reviewed and analyzed the training materials, and conducted semi-structured interviews with the participants three to four months after the training sessions ended. Using qualitative analysis techniques and the case study approach, the author reviewed, identified, and analyzed the collection of data and found emergent themes; reviewed the theoretical framework of the meaningfulness at work and emotional intelligence models; and mapped the resulting meaningfulness features of emotional intelligence onto the meaningfulness at work model.

The author stated her research study’s purpose: “The study seeks to understand how participants alter their work tasks, relationships, behaviors, and mindsets to promote sources of meaning and their reflective valuation of their work as a consequence of attending the EI training.” The case study investigated three questions:  (1) how does EI training promote learning about meaningful work; (2) what did the manager-attendees experience after trying to apply the results of the EI/Meaningfulness at work training in their workplaces; and (3) what obstacles impacted the managers’ application of learning.

Fulfilling workFindings and Discussion – Emotional Intelligence Training and Meaningfulness at Work. According to the author, the results of her research showed that the various popular, e.g. Bar-On model, emotional intelligence training programs did promote learning about and producing meaningfulness , i.e. “fulfilling experiences at work”. The author noted this finding [about research question (1)] by stating “The EI training endorsed this through teaching, discussions, and (reflective) exercises on themes or competencies of emotional awareness and understanding, happiness, self-actualization, achievement drive, influencing, goal setting, motivation, social responsibility, social relationships, empathy, human values and virtues, transparency (honesty and integrity), optimism and authenticity.”  The results of the analysis of the self-reported data from the qualitative case study investigation into emotional intelligence training as a source of learning about meaningfulness at work  provide “empirical evidence that sources of meaningfulness are a core ingredient of EI training when popular EI models are used.”

This study about emotional intelligence training as a source of meaningfulness at work used managers as participants. This managers sample participated voluntarily in the various EI trainings. The findings, according to the author, showed that the managers altered their work patterns, relationships, behaviors, and mindsets. The author further wrote that the managers’ reflective accounts of their changes showed that they valued their work as “more meaningful.” The participants cultivated meaningfulness via each of the four pathways, or sources of workplace meaningfulness [developing the inner self; expressing one’s potential; unity with others; and serving others] through their own volition in connection with the emotional intelligence training. “Overall, the impact of the EI training on promoting sources of meaningful work in this sample was considerable.”

Also, [in answer to question (3)] the results showed that the managers who participated in the emotional intelligence training about sources of meaningfulness experienced “numerous tensions”. The search for meaningfulness in work tasks, relationships, behaviors, and mindsets “is a constant process of searching for, articulating, balancing, struggling with, and taking responsibility for the human need for meaning.” But, this takes place in context of reality at work. Learners who endeavor to draw upon each of the four sources or pathways for meaningfulness experience tension between inspiration and reality. Some of the participants had decreased productivity. This related to directing focus on their self-interests, pursuits of sources of meaningfulness beyond the workplace, like towards their families or pursuits outside of work. The outcome of training, however, “does not always benefit the organization.” The author noted that “some employees are not searching for meaningfulness at work.” Not everyone desires work of significance, value, and worth.

The results showed that the popular Bar-On and Goleman models have a “framework of meaningfulness embedded” within them. The qualitative investigation of the training about meaningfulness showed that emotional intelligence can promote meaningfulness at work. By extracting the data from them and analyzing the participants’ rich accounts of training observations and learning, the author concluded that the content in the courses and the training “provide important insights into material realities of promoting meaningful work”.

800px-Sunset_2007-1Final Thoughts…..Lawyers and Meaningfulness. The research featured in this post did not involve lawyers or legal services organizations. But, the results – substantial empirical evidence that emotional intelligence training can promote meaningfulness at work – provide “important insights” about the value of emotional intelligence in promoting meaningfulness at work. Due to empirical studies which show it has many organizational and personal benefits, legal leaders should want their organizations’ members to experience meaningfulness in their work. One proven approach exists – emotional intelligence training. “Practically, the study demonstrates the importance of training to enhance work of value and significance. . . .”

The profession, its academy, and legal employers must deal with a mounting existential crisis. See** and Statistics, Stigma, and Sanism: A Public Health Warning About the “Perfect Storm” Heading Toward America’s Legal Profession. Since meaningfulness is “good for business” and purpose and meaning in work have “personal benefits”, and this research shows empirical evidence in support of emotional training to promote learning about meaningfulness, do legal leaders and their organizations’ members really want to passively allow another beautiful sunset to pass without taking first steps, and devising a strategy for it as described here and implementing emotional intelligence training? Who wants to experience more fulfilling work? Who cares about gaining increased potential for greater happiness and reduced stress at work? Who wants more engaged, motivated, and productive workers?

If this post raises concerns, or has sparked interest, please check out these related Psycholawlogy posts:

Elite Performance [Legal] Organizations & Tailored Emotional Intelligence Interventions;

The Self-Actualizing Lawyer and The Top EQi 2.0 Emotional Intelligence Work Success Factor – “Pursuit of Meaning”;

The Socially Responsible–Emotionally Intelligent Lawyer;

True Keystones in Helping You Get What You Want, Be Happy, and Stay Healthy: Grit, Curiosity, and Meaning Orientation – Personality Strengths Which Provide “Will and Proper Way”; and

[Lawyer] Anxiety, Self-Protective Behavior, Ethical Sinkholes, and Professional Responsibility

Thank You.  Thank you very much. Dan DeFoe JD MS – Adlitem Solutions | Organization Development for Professional Services Firms and the Legal Profession: People. Projects. Practices |Web – | Email: | Blog – | Services – Organization Development Practitioner combining and leveraging 25+ years of diverse legal experience, 7+ years of allied health training and work experience, a Master of Science in Organizational Development Psychology, and educationally qualified or earned certifications in industry-leading normal (Myers-Briggs MBTI) and special business (Hogan Assessments) personality; ability (MSCEIT) and self-report (EQi 2.0 [derived from Bar-On model]) emotional intelligence; leadership (Certified Intentional Leadership Coach); and stress management assessment and tools (ARSENAL best practices system for stress resilient emotional intelligence) to partner with client organizations, their leaders, and member to discover needs and opportunities for growth and to design, develop, deliver, and evaluate custom interventions for individual, team, project, or organizational solutions. | Mission:  “America’s leading resource for normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, and related coaching, continuing education programs, training, and workshops for judges, lawyers, law schools, bar associations, healthcare, medical, and other professional services providers and their organizations and leaders.”  Please visit Adlitem Solutions and Psycholawlogy again soon. Thank you very much.

Complimentary Assessment: Contact me via email at to arrange a time for a no obligation discussion and assessment of your firm’s interests or needs regarding emotional intelligence workshops, training, continuing education, or coaching. See this related postPsycholawlogyEmotional Intelligence Memo to Management: EI as a Buffer of [Lawyer] Stress in the Developmental Job Experience – for more information about taking first steps.

Article Source: Thory, K. (2016). Developing meaningfulness at work through emotional intelligence training. International Journal of Training and Development, 20(1), 58-77 (copy currently available here).

Additional Sources:  ** Ho, J. A. (2015). A Vast Image Out of Spiritus Mundi: The Existential Crisis of Law Schools. Georgetown Law Journal, (103)77-86 (copy currently available here) |Lips-Wiersma, M., & Morris, L. (2009). Discriminating between ‘meaningful work’ and the ‘management of meaning’. Journal of Business Ethics, 88(3), 491-511 | Lips-Wiersma, M., & Morris, L. (2011). The map of meaning: A guide to sustaining our humanity in the world of work. Greenleaf Publishing | * Lips-Wiersma, M., & Wright, S. (2012). Measuring the meaning of meaningful work development and validation of the Comprehensive Meaningful Work Scale (CMWS). Group & Organization Management, 37(5), 655-685 (copy currently available here) |

Image Credits: Meaningful work – cellist here | Map of meaning here | Meaningful work here | Fulfilling work here | Sunset here

Dan DeFoe

Owner and Lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions
I'm an attorney with 20+ years of experience and have an MS degree in organizational development psychology. I provide normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, assessment interpretation and feedback, and professional development planning and training activities for lawyers, judges, other legal services providers, and their organizations.

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