3620 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Research Interests: The experience and meaning of work; Creation of meaning in challenging organizational and occupational contexts; The valuing and devaluing of work
Professor Wrzesniewski is the William and Jacalyn Egan Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining the faculty at Wharton, she was on faculty at the Yale School of Management, Yale University, and the Stern School of Business, New York University. Professor Wrzesniewski’s research interests focus on how people make meaning of their work, particularly in difficult contexts (e.g., stigmatized or declining occupations, independent work, and disrupted work). She has studied the experience of work as a job, career, or calling across a range of occupations. Her research on job crafting examines how people redraw the task, relational, and cognitive boundaries of their jobs to change both their work identity and the meaning of the work. Most recently, her work considers the relationship between the individual and the work itself, with a specific interest in how people understand and interpret the nature of their motivation. Her work has been published in academic journals such as Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Review, Organization Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and Research in Organizational Behavior. In 2015 and 2019 Professor Wrzesniewski won the “Inspiring Yale” Award, voted by students as the most inspiring professor at Yale’s School of Management, and won the Herbert Simon Award for research excellence in 2019.
Winnie Yun Jiang and Amy Wrzesniewski (2023), Perceiving Fixed or Flexible Meaning: Toward a Model of Meaning Fixedness and Navigating Occupational Destabilization, Administrative Science Quarterly.
Abstract: This article examines individuals’ cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to the destabilization of their occupations, how their responses differ, and why. We focus on the context of journalism, an occupation undergoing severe destabilization in the U.S. and seen as deeply meaningful by many of its incumbents. Drawing on two waves of interviews with 72 unemployed or former newspaper journalists, conducted over five months, and additional interviews with 22 others, we identified two sets of responses, each characterized by distinctive cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns. Building on these findings, we developed the construct of ‘‘meaning fixedness’’ to capture the extent to which individuals view the meaning of the different components of their work to be fixed within one occupational context or flexible across different occupations. We found that participants held different interpretations of journalism’s destabilization and assessments of how portable their work components were to other occupational contexts: flexible-meaning perceivers generally engaged in actions to reinvent their career, while fixed-meaning perceivers engaged in actions to persist in journalism with the hope that their occupation could be restored. Our findings culminate in a model of meaning fixedness and how it shapes individuals’ navigation of occupational destabilization. This research uncovers an individual-level perception that has the potential to shape the varied responses to occupational changes observed in prior research, contributing to the literatures on occupations, the meaning of work, and role transitions.
Justin Berg, Amy Wrzesniewski, Adam Grant, Jennifer Kurkoski, Brian Welle (2022), Getting Unstuck: The Effects of Growth Mindsets About the Self and Job on Happiness at Work, Journal of Applied Psychology, 108 (1), pp. 152-166.
Abstract: Past research on growth mindsets has focused on the benefits of viewing the self as flexible rather than fixed. We propose that employees can make more substantial agentic changes to their work experiences if they also hold growth mindsets about their job designs. We introduce the concept of dual-growth mindset-viewing both the self and job as malleable-and examine its impact on employee happiness over time. We hypothesize that fostering a dual-growth mindset yields relatively durable gains in happiness, while fostering a growth mindset about either the self or job is insufficient for sustainable increases in happiness. We tested these predictions using two experimental studies: a field quasi-experiment in a Fortune 500 technology company and a controlled experiment with employees in a variety of organizations and occupations. Across the two experiments, fostering dual-growth mindset yielded gains in self-reported and observer-rated happiness that lasted at least 6 months. Fostering growth mindsets about either the self or job alone did not generate lasting increases in happiness. Supplementary mediation analyses suggest dual-growth mindsets boosted happiness by enabling employees to plan more substantial job crafting. Our research suggests that durable gains in happiness at work depend on holding flexible mindsets about the job, not only the self.
Winnie Jiang and Amy Wrzesniewski (2021), Misaligned Meaning: Couples’ Work-Orientation Incongruence and Their Work Outcomes, Organization Science, 33 (2), pp. 785-809.
Abstract: This research investigates the relationship between couples’ work-orientation incongruence—the degree to which romantic partners view the meaning of their own work differently—and their ability to succeed in making job transitions and experiencing satisfaction with the jobs they hold. We use a social information-processing approach to develop arguments that romantic partners serve as powerful social referents in the domain of work. By cueing social information regarding the salience and value of different aspects of work, partners with incongruent work orientations can complicate each other’s evaluation of their own jobs and the jobs they seek. In a longitudinal study of couples in which one partner is searching for work, we find that greater incongruence in couples’ calling orientations toward work relates to lower reemployment probability, a relationship that is mediated by an increased feeling of uncertainty about the future experienced by job seekers in such couples. Calling-orientation incongruence also relates to lower job satisfaction for employed partners over time. We contribute to the burgeoning literature on the role romantic partners play in shaping work outcomes by examining the effect of romantic partners’ perception of the meaning of work, offering empirical evidence of the ways in which romantic partners influence key work and organizational outcomes. Our research also contributes to the meaning of work literature by demonstrating how work-orientation incongruence at the dyadic level matters for individual work attitudes and success in making job transitions.
Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford, Amy Wrzesniewski (2019), Agony and Ecstasy in the Gig Economy: Cultivating Holding Environments for Precarious and Personalized Work Identities, Administrative Science Quarterly, 64, pp. 124-170.
Abstract: Building on an inductive, qualitative study of independent workers—people not affiliated with an organization or established profession—this paper develops a theory about the management of precarious and personalized work identities. We find that in the absence of organizational or professional membership, workers experience stark emotional tensions encompassing both the anxiety and fulfillment of working in precarious and personal conditions. Lacking the holding environment provided by an organization, the workers we studied endeavored to create one for themselves through cultivating connections to routines, places, people, and a broader purpose. These personal holding environments helped them manage the broad range of emotions stirred up by their precarious working lives and focus on producing work that let them define, express, and develop their selves. Thus holding environments transformed workers’ precariousness into a tolerable and even generative predicament. By clarifying the process through which people manage emotions associated with precarious and personalized work identities, and thereby render their work identities viable and their selves vital, this paper advances theorizing on the emotional underpinnings of identity work and the systems psychodynamics of independent work.
Barry Schwartz and Amy Wrzesniewski, “Reconceptualizing Intrinsic Motivation”. In The Cambridge Handbook on Motivation and Learning, edited by K. A. Renninger & S. E. Hidi, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 373-396
Abstract: There is a long history of thought and research in the social sciences that views human beings as engaged in entirely instrumental activities in pursuit of goals that typically give them pleasure. This view makes a sharp distinction between “means” and “ends,” and treats the relation between means and ends as essentially arbitrary. Forty years of research on “intrinsic motivation” presents a different view, suggesting that some activities are themselves ends. In this chapter, we argue that distinguishing between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation has been important, but that the current understanding of the distinction is not adequate to capture the most important dimensions of difference between these two types of motives. We suggest a modification of the distinction, between activities that are pursued for consequences that bear an intimate relation to the activities themselves, and those that are purely instrumental. We call the former class of activities “internally motivated,” and argue that while they are not necessarily pleasurable, they yield lasting effects on well- being that instrumental consequences typically do not. Further, we argue that internally motivated activities differ from intrinsically motivated ones, in which the sheer pleasure of the activity motivates its pursuit. We discuss evidence from both laboratory research and field studies, including a longitudinal study of West Point cadets, in support of our arguments.
Abstract: Approximately 150 million people in North America and Western Europe now work as independent contractors, most of them in knowledge-intensive industries and creative occupations. The authors studied 65 of them in depth and learned that although they feel a host of personal, social, and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer, they also say they chose independence and wouldn't give up the benefits that come with it. Many of these workers have created a "holding environment" for themselves by establishing four connections: (1) place, in the form of idiosyncratic, dedicated workspaces that allow easy access to the tools of their owners' trade; (2) routines that streamline workflow and incorporate personal care; (3) purpose, to create a bridge between personal interests and motivations and a need in the world; and (4) people to whom they turn for reassurance and encouragement. These connections help independent workers sustain productivity, endure their anxieties, and even turn those feelings into sources of creativity and growth.
Barry Schwartz and Amy Wrzesniewski, “Internal Motivation, Instrumental Motivation, and Eudaimonia”. In Handbook of Eudaimonic Well-Being, edited by J. Vitterso, (New York: Springer, 2016), pp. 123-134
Abstract: There is a long history of thought and research in the social sciences that views human beings as engaged in entirely instrumental activities in pursuit of goals that typically give them pleasure, and presumably, happiness. This view can be contrasted with Aristotle’s “eudaimonic” view that real happiness comes from the pursuit and achievement of excellence, with excellence understood as achieving a telos specific to and appropriate to each activity. In this chapter, we argue for Aristotle’s view in distinguishing instrumental from internal motives. The pursuit of consequences that bear an intimate relation to the activities themselves (internal motives), while often not pleasurable, yields lasting effects on well-being that instrumental consequences typically do not. We discuss both laboratory research and field studies, including a longitudinal study of West Point cadets, in support of our arguments. We suggest that the often-made distinction between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” motivation fails to capture adequately the complexity of the relations between the things people do and their reasons for doing them.
Jane Dutton, Gelaye Debebe, Amy Wrzesniewski, “Being Valued and Devalued at Work: A Social Valuing Perspective”. In Qualitative Organizational Research: Best Papers from the Davis Conference on Qualitative Research, edited by B. A. Bechky & K. D. Elsbach, (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2016), pp. 9-51
Amy Wrzesniewski and M. Teresa Cardador (2015), Better to Give and to Compete? Prosocial and Competitive Motives as Interactive Predictors of Citizenship Behavior, The Journal of Social Psychology.
Abstract: Research has returned mixed results concerning the relationship between prosocial motivation and citizenship behavior. Building from research suggesting that mixed motives might explain these equivocal findings, we conducted two field studies examining the interaction between prosocial and competitive motives and two types of citizenship behavior. Prosocial motivation, but not competitive motivation, was positively related to citizenship behavior directed at others, though this relationship was weakened when prosocial motives were accompanied by competitive motives. Prosocial motives compensated for weak competitive motives to predict citizenship behavior directed toward the organization. Our studies expand research on prosocial and competitive motivation, mixed-motives, and citizenship behavior. Further, they carry personnel implications given that many organizations seek to hire employees high on both competitive and prosocial motivation.
Amy Wrzesniewski, “Callings and the Meaning of Work”. In Being Called: Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives, edited by D. B. Yaden, T. D. McCall, & J. H. Ellens, (Denver: Praeger, 2015), pp. 3-12