Understanding the autonomy–meaningful work relationship in nursing: A theoretical framework

Jitske M.C. Both-Nwabuwe*, Marjolein Lips-Wiersma, Maria T.M. Dijkstra, Bianca Beersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Within nursing literature, the value and contribution of autonomy to nurse work satisfaction has been consistently demonstrated. Given the current forms of work and today's technology, the scope of freedom a nurse has over and in work has expanded in many different ways. However, although autonomy is viewed as an important antecedent to meaningful work (MW), no formal theory exists attempting to explain the relationships between the various different forms of autonomy and MW. Such a theoretical framework would guide health care organizations to direct resources specifically toward those types of autonomy that are most likely to cultivate the MW and its associated outcomes such as job satisfaction. Purpose: To address this important gap, this article introduces a theoretical, empirically testable model of autonomy—MW that is suitable for the contemporary work environment of nurses. Method: Drawing from research and theory in nursing literature, organizational sciences, and business ethics on autonomy and MW, the model is presented in four parts: the proposed relationships between perceived (1) professional autonomy, (2) individual autonomy, (3) group autonomy with core dimensions of MW, and (4) the proposed relationships between these three forms of autonomy with the dimensions “inspiration” and “facing reality.” Findings: By using a multidimensional MW construct, our model offers fine-tuned propositions regarding how different types of autonomy influence different dimensions of MW. Discussion: The model proposes that the three forms of autonomy relate differently to the dimensions of MW. This model can be used as starting point for empirical research on autonomy–MW relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-113
Number of pages10
JournalNursing Outlook
Issue number1
Early online date18 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • CMWS
  • Individual autonomy
  • Meaningful work
  • Nursing
  • Perceived group autonomy
  • Professional autonomy


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