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As we’ve researched trends in employee engagement, we consistently find dissonance in levels of engagement between a person who views his job as—well, a job—and people who have turned their “jobs” into careers or callings. Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski, for example, has published research on how the mental conceptions we all have about our jobs affect our performance and our happiness. Her studies find that different people can see their employment as any of the three aforementioned types (jobs, careers, or callings), regardless of the position they hold (and even if they all hold the same position).

Job, Career, Calling

In one portion of her studies, Wrzesniewski found that among 24 administrative assistants (all of whom had nearly identical conditions of employment) perceptions of job, career, and calling were represented in almost equal thirds. Intrigued by this observation, we’ve sought to differentiate between people who see their work as a job, as a career, and as a calling. Here’s what we’ve been able to surmise:

  • JobPeople who have jobs and see them as nothing more than jobs are generally satisfied. (Remember what we said about employee satisfaction?) These individuals go to work, fulfill their responsibilities, and anticipate the reward of a paycheck. Rarely, if ever, do they choose to connect their job description to the success of the company or to the betterment of society or self.  These individuals, sadly, are not engaged.
  • CareerPeople who see their jobs as careers are focused on self-improvement, advancement, and contributing to the overall success of the company. Though they may exhibit some levels of engagement, these individuals have not chosen to realize their full potential and therefore do not achieve the levels of success they are capable of.
  • CallingPeople who feel a connection between their personal values and their work generally see their employment as a calling. They embrace company goals, values, and objectives, committing themselves to success because they see the bigger picture. These individuals have made the choice to leverage their talents as they contribute to the success of their company; they witness their actions contributing to a greater good.

Notice the recurring theme in each of these mindsets (especially the last one): we all have an employee engagement choice to make about how we view our employment. We can all become the remarkable people who view “jobs” as callings. When we choose to have this mindset, we become more productive assets of human capital to our companies and we develop greater feelings of engagement and personal satisfaction in our work.

This research leads us to one question, though: whose responsibility is it to establish the calling mindset in an organization? Are employers responsible for cultivating such a mindset as part of the company culture, or are employees more valuable when they choose to individually develop this paradigm?

5 Keys of Employee Engagement White Paper

Related Post: Motivate me. I dare you.

Reese Haydon

Reese is the Marketing Specialist at DecisionWise. His work experience includes functions such as Global Business Services - Employee Experience at Cisco Systems, Organizational Leadership and Strategy at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management, and Executive Coaching at FranklinCovey.

Read More by Reese Haydon

9 comments — View
  • Did this research led to different findings among different types of jobs and their engagement?

  • Great article. I’m curious what type of company(ies) the admin assistants worked for. That could affect the ease with which they viewed job as calling. Great closing question. I am exploring the ways in which, once engaged at the individual level, employees can act together to change the corporate culture.

  • While you can’t force your employees to make their position within you company their “calling” your business can and should try to make your employees actually enjoy coming to work. If you want engaged employees you need to be invested in their personal success and make sure they feel like more than just another cog in the machine.

  • Why don’t you start measuring and end-off with an open question that asks the employees what can be improved within the organization? That at least opens some door for the employees for renewing and innovative ideas as well as ideas that improve performance of the organization.

  • I see engagement as my own responsibility while fully acknowledging the impact of the organization. It seems many people “carry” their engagement with them to whatever work or whatever organization they are involved with. The organization and the others I work with are accountable for having an impact on my own engagement but people with a sense of calling seem to be able to transcend just about any bad organization or boss and it seems to me more people have a calling to a work (I want to be a pilot) than to a specific airline.

  • Excellent article….more than ever before, this confirms the need for talent acquisition professionals to search for the candidate who has a connection with the values of the organization versus the candidate who appears to be most experienced.

  • Sounds like Amy’s research totally supports Chip Conley’s Employee Pyramid from his book Peak – How Great Companies Get their Mojo from Maslow. My perspective is that though the capability for engagement hides within the hearts and minds of every employee, it won’t get unleashed unless the organization’s leadership, corporate culture, values and approach to technology (i.e. what products or services or solutions that they sell) are all in alignment. For example: I can connect with the organizations values, but if leaders don’t demonstrate them in a way that can be seen, then the level of engagement is likely to get worse not better.

  • The most telling part of this article was in paragraph 3. A sample size of 24 people were taken, and the results was a break down of equal numbers into the 3 main categories of engagement. Let’s face it, this distribution isn’t going to change. Sure, little things might be done here and there to slightly alter the 1/3 split, but over all it will still remain the same. Acknowedging this fact is the true value of this research, not trying to come up with ways to change the distribution.

  • Excellent article!! I think I will share it with all of our employees. I love the quote on PBS “It’s all in how you look at it”.

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