Employers have a Duty of Beneficence to Design for Meaningful Work: A General Argument and Logistics Warehouses as a Case Study

Jilles Smids, Hannah Berkers, Pascale Le Blanc, Sonja Rispens, Sven Nyholm

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Artificial intelligence-driven technology increasingly shapes work practices and, accordingly, employees’ opportunities for meaningful work (MW). In our paper, we identify five dimensions of MW: pursuing a purpose, social relationships, exercising skills and self-development, autonomy, self-esteem and recognition. Because MW is an important good, lacking opportunities for MW is a serious disadvantage. Therefore, we need to know to what extent employers have a duty to provide this good to their employees. We hold that employers have a duty of beneficence to design for opportunities for MW when implementing AI-technology in the workplace. We argue that this duty of beneficence is supported by the three major ethical theories, namely, Kantian ethics, consequentialism, and virtue ethics. We defend this duty against two objections, including the view that it is incompatible with the shareholder theory of the firm. We then employ the five dimensions of MW as our analytical lens to investigate how AI-based technological innovation in logistic warehouses has an impact, both positively and negatively, on MW, and illustrate that design for MW is feasible. We further support this practical feasibility with the help of insights from organizational psychology. We end by discussing how AI-based technology has an impact both on meaningful work (often seen as an aspirational goal) and decent work (generally seen as a matter of justice). Accordingly, ethical reflection on meaningful and decent work should become more integrated to do justice to how AI-technology inevitably shapes both simultaneously.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Ethics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Oct 2023


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