TSElosophers meeting 23.9.2022. Participants: Eeva Nummi, Erkki Lassila, Mia Salo, Milla Unkila, Otto Rosendahl, Veli Virmajoki
Morin, Estelle M. (1995) Organizational effectiveness and the meaning of work. In T.C. Pauchant and associates (Ed.). In Search for Meaning. Managing for the health of our organizations, our communities, and the natural world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 29-64.
In her 1995 paper, Morin suggests an existentialist perspective on organizational effectiveness. She criticizes the priority senior managers place on the economic perspective in the evaluation of organizational performance. Morin argues that economic prioritization distorts the meaning of effectiveness and affects the meaning of human work and human existence. She proposes new ways to discover the meaning of work building on existential psychotherapy of e.g. Viktor E. Frankl and Irwin D. Yalom. She also offers empirical evidence on the narrow approach to organizational effectiveness among senior managers and suggests ”means that could be used to achieve more humane management practices based on the lessons of existential psychotherapy”.
TSElosophers agreed that Morin’s criticism about organizational effectiveness remains valid. It was also suggested that organizational goals seem to be divided: while the senior management values financial effectiveness, in everyday organizational life, the employees’ actions are to an increasing extent guided more by a broader set of values. An example of this value-incongruence can be found in the crisis-ridden work situation of nurses in Finland.
Through highlighting the broad range of existential meanings given to work, Morin opens up the avenue towards reflecting the role we individually and collectively give to work. Morin links the narrow definition of organizational effectiveness to the disappearance of the meaning of work; Organizations sometimes pursue things that have no meaning for individuals and their efforts e.g. on sustainability. Hence, individuals might need to take distance and find meaning from somewhere else than their identity as an employee. In our time, the loss of meaning in work manifests itself in many ways, for example burnout or quiet quitting.
We reflected on the fact that the existential perspective is contradictory in itself: how can we measure something for which the measurement itself creates a problem? The fundamental problem is that most of the things we need to take into our calculations are qualitatively different. To bypass the problem, we’re trying to position all we want to measure (and thus value) onto the one same standard of desirability (see March 1982, Thompson 1967), namely the financial one. Instead of health being a value in itself, the value of health is calculated in terms of how much a healthy or an unhealthy individual costs to the society. The discussion of ecosystem services does the same in the environmental side: we cannot appreciate nature in itself, but need to have a mechanism for articulating its value in money.
Overall, we found the paper relevant and interesting, although it seemed to address too many issues. We agreed that the humanistic approach of this paper successfully described many problems, but did less to solve any of these. For example, if we were to guide and control organizations based on a broader definition of effectiveness, perhaps one with less emphasis on money, how would we define the variables and methods of calculations that would fit to this purpose, and where would it lead organizations (scenarios)? Having read the article, we do not know. The article showed us a good direction for meaningful discussions about organizational effectiveness, but unfortunately it lost its own focus in the end.