An Application of Logotherapy Facilitating Meaning in the Workplace in South Africa

By Sorette Roose (van Jaarsveld), Dr Teria Shantall

Over 10 years, while working in the corporate environment, the first author of this paper (SvJ) noticed first hand that people did not experience their work as meaningful. In reflection with colleagues in corporate careers, I noticed that many people only seemed to work for their month-end salaries whilst viewing their jobs as separate from their lives. People seemed to only start thinking about the meaning of their work after retirement, as part of a heightened necessity to find meaning in past life.

Then, due to awareness gained in my training as logotherapist, I found that my personal commitment, productivity, and corporate jobsatisfaction increased dramatically by increasingly finding more meaning in my work. I felt drawn to do a project on the use of logotherapy to facilitate meaning in the workplace. The following article recounts the process, the derived conclusions, and my recommendations to organizations.

The Process

Participant Selection

It was decided to invite individuals into the project as voluntary participants to ensure alignment with the logotherapy belief that each person is responsible for finding her or his own meaning. For practical reasons, the project was based in the South African corporate environment and the initial invitation was extended to a group of colleagues in the employment of the company in which I worked. The invitation was distributed electronically, formulated to stimulate reflections on personal meaning and to motivate participation:

The purpose of this study is to determine whether an individual’s experience of meaning in the workplace improves or changes as a result of projected improvement in Purpose in Life orientation during the application of logotherapy. Logotherapy is based on the works of its founder, Viktor Frankl, and is based on a particular world view, namely, that life has purpose and meaning and that, as human beings, we want to experience our own lives as meaningful and worthwhile. If you feel you would like to explore the meaning of your 109 work in your life context by participating in my study, please let me know in order for us to schedule sessions at times that will suit you.

Without prompting, the invitation was in turn forwarded by the original invitees to colleagues in other corporations. Within the allocated 2-week response window, 58 persons communicated their interest in participating in the project. This was a larger response than anticipated and was interpreted as an indication of the interest, and the need, for people to find meaning in the workplace.

The project was designed to incorporate both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Considering the time demands of the phenomenological methodology employed as part of this project, it was decided to limit the participants to the first 10 people who responded. The respondents were from varied backgrounds, including the Financial, Telecommunications, and Occupational Therapy Sectors.

Logotherapy Sessions

The engagement consisted of interviews with the participants, conducted as logotherapy sessions-under-supervision of the second author of this paper (TS). Within the sessions, as therapist-in-training, I facilitated meaning-type discussions along the various logotherapy guidelines.

Supervision meant that the tape-recording of each session was transcribed, reflected upon, and then analyzed in one-on-one meetings. This supervisory format resulted in 293 hours transcription time and 58 hours analysis with the supervisor. Per accepted training practice, the session recordings were obtained with the informed consent of the participants; and the transcriptions and analysis were put into storage to be held secure and confidential until 2009.

On average, four to five 1-hour sessions were scheduled fortnightly with each participant. The sessions were concluded when both therapist and participant felt that a point of saturation was reached.

The logotherapeutic method used in conducting the interviews was the Socratic dialogue. The Socratic dialogue seeks to invite meaningful conversation, whereby the therapist facilitates the client’s discovery of meaning. I respected the uniqueness of each participant encounter and was open to each of the participant’s own meaning discoveries.

I guided the participants by responding to the logohints or meaning cues transmitted by the participants. I thereby sought to guide the participants to discover in a new way what they intuitively already knew. Through showing unconditional acceptance and understanding, I created an atmosphere in which the participants felt safe to display their healthy cores whereby they were inspired to let their deepest wishes or truest convictions or values shine through. This allowed the participants to become conscious and aware of the experience of meaning in their work.

The Purpose-in-Life (PIL) Test

The PIL test is a psychometric assessment of the individual’s sense of meaning and purpose in life, published by Crumbaugh. The PIL formed the measurement input to a quantitative analysis of outcomes.

Phenomenology as Assessment

Phenomenological analysis is the study of ordinary, everyday phenomena — in the present case, the experience of meaning in the workplace. The phenomenological analysis of the transcribed interviews formed the qualitative data of this project. Frankl referred to phenomenology as a method leading to insights in logotherapy’s concept of values.4

Analysis entailed meticulously searching through each of the transcribed sessions for themes expressed by relevant descriptive statements concerning the experience of meaning in the workplace. A first order profile was then created by grouping the data into themes — each theme conveying a particular meaning. This first order profile was then converted into a constituent profile description for each of the participants and of the participants as a group. A constituent profile description is a condensed summary of the main themes of the original data in the words of the investigator, containing the essence of what the subject (or group of subjects) expressed.


Quantitative Results

The PIL scores of 9 of the 10 participants increased from first logotherapy session to last logotherapy session. The mean PIL score of the group increased from 115.9 (SD = 11.3) before to 123.1 (SD = 10.0) after, t(9) = 4.76, p < .05, one-tailed. The scores compare favorably with Crumbaugh’s study, which was used as benchmark for this project.6 As a quantitative tool, the PIL is known to have withstood the test of time. However, the PIL is somewhat open to the Hawthorn-effect; also known as subject or response bias. The Hawthorn-effect manifests where evaluated participants skew their measurements to please others instead of just acting naturally. Although there was a significant increase in the PIL scores, there was no control group for this project, and it is possible that the results were biased.

Qualitative Results

After analyzing the various meaning perspectives from the transcribed sessions, we noticed shifts in the experiences of meaning for the participants as a group. The main themes in the beginning sessions — namely, feelings of boredom, dissatisfaction, and lack of motivation — shifted to commitment, job-satisfaction, motivation, and attitudinal changes in the final sessions.

Feelings of boredom, dissatisfaction, and non-motivation at work inspired the participants to participate in the project. In the context of logotherapy these are symptoms of meaninglessness.

During the logotherapy sessions with each of the participants, these feelings of boredom, dissatisfaction, and lack of motivation, as well as new awareness of meaning, were explored. The exploration of the root causes of boredom, dissatisfaction, and non-motivation appears to have led to the experience of the challenge to find meaning in life in general and meaning in work in particular.

Upon reflection on their past work experiences, the participants came to understand that they had to go through those experiences in preparation for the positions they are in now. Those accumulated experiences, as well as the choices that the participants had made to pursue different positions, made them who they are today. The participants came to a deep understanding that they should have unconditional faith in the unconditional meaningfulness of life. Some of the participants of the current project found new ways of being of service to other people; others of the participants realized that they were already, through their work, being of service to people.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Considering both the quantitative and qualitative analyses; the results suggest meaning in the workplace was facilitated in the course of this project of applying logotherapy sessions to willing participants in corporate positions. Through the use of Socratic dialogue, the therapist was able to assist the participants to put their past experiences into perspective, realize the meaning of their work, and find a sense of direction and purpose in their lives as far as the future of their careers was concerned. During these processes, participants’ attitudes towards work changed with resultant changes of their behaviors.

The statistical analysis of the test results plus the phenomenological analysis of the transcribed sessions support the conviction that a greater awareness of experiencing meaning in the workplace could not only change the individual’s attitude towards work but also bring about a greater motivation, job-satisfaction, and commitment to doing her or his work. These discoveries of meaning and behavioral changes could facilitate higher productivity in the workplace and also improve people’s interpersonal relationships with colleagues. The workplace is an ideal place where meaningful transformation can take place when people integrate their numerous meaning discoveries and collectively transform organizations to make a meaningful contribution to society. The experience of work as “just a means of earning a living wage” could be replaced by a view of work as worthwhile and meaningful part of life.

Frankl viewed meaning as something beyond and ahead of us which draws us out of the narrow and closed circle of self-concern. It is something which enlarges our vision, enriches us, gives us a sense of direction and causes us to make progress in the sense of personal advancement.

Recommendations for Organizations

Everybody experiences meaning in his or her own unique way; therefore, it is impossible for management to dictate what employees’ work meaning should be. People have the responsibility to discover their own meaning in the workplace, but this experience could be discovered earlier when managers provide a climate in which people can recognize and use their talents, knowledge, and skills and have the freedom to express themselves and make their own responsible choices. Managers have an immense influence on their people and therefore are in the unique position to promote a corporate culture of meaning.

Although people have the responsibility to discover their own meaning, I am of the opinion that the following aspects could play a role in removing the symptoms of meaninglessness in the workplace:

  • A meaningful match between the employee and the position she or he holds, in order to release personal growth through innovative and creative output by the employee.
  • Recognition of the uniqueness and worth of the individual employee by management.
  • Promotion of a corporate culture of meaning by management.
  • Giving employees the necessary resources to be able to fulfill their roles/responsibilities and thus actualize their unique meanings.
  • Offering employees the opportunity to engage in career development discussions where they feel safe to explore why they perhaps are not experiencing meaning in their work anymore or how they could enhance the experience of meaningfulness.
  • Offering employees the opportunity to explore and pursue their highest levels of personal and spiritual development.

According to Bulka, Frankl conceived of work in a sociological context, saying that “work usually represents the area in which the individual’s uniqueness stands in relation to society and thus acquires meaning and value. This meaning and value, however, is attached to the person’s work as a contribution to society, not to the actual occupation as such.” The organization should, therefore, promote awareness of the fact that their people are delivering a meaningful service to the organization and the organization, in turn, is delivering a meaningful service to society. Through a commitment to deliver a service and make a meaningful contribution to society, work can be not only an individual’s means to an end (namely, to receive a salary), or an organization’s means to an end (namely, to make a profit), but also an end in itself (namely, a life’s meaningful vocation or task).

When an organization creates this atmosphere of meaning awareness, then all the people of the organization — management and employees alike — will aim collectively for the goal to render a service. I am convinced that every company and each employee can develop greater commitment, performance, and efficiency, through applying logotherapy as a means of facilitating meaning in the workplace.