The Employee Engagement Choice: Is It a Job, a Career, or a Calling?

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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.

Of course, I always enjoy being able to support our findings with similar research done by other industry authorities.

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).

Different jobs, different perceptions

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:

  • Job — People 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 employment mindsets (especially the last one): we are all able to choose how we view our employment. We can all become the remarkable people who view “jobs” as callings.

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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?

This was originally published on the DecisionWise blog.

Reese Haydon is the Marketing Specialist at DecisionWise, a management consulting firm specializing in leadership and organization development using assessments, feedback, coaching, and training. His professional experience comes from working with the Organizational Leadership and Strategy department at Brigham Young University, the editorial team at brass|Media, Inc., and other teams in both for-profit and non-profit organizations.


11 Comments on “The Employee Engagement Choice: Is It a Job, a Career, or a Calling?

  1. Really interesting and informative! where I work, Achievers, we think getting your employees on board with company values and goals makes important strides to employee engagement. By clearly mapping how your work matches company success, we’re nudging people closer to that calling category. Definitely food for thought!

  2. Have you used concept mapping to help people understand how their work connects to other people and departments? Of if not, what creative strategies do you use to help people see the big picture?

  3. Good question, Reese. Employers can try to instill a “work-as-a-calling” mindset, but they cannot force it. What they can control (besides hiring people with the right fit for the organization) is fostering an engaging climate where people are enabled & encouraged to do their best. People who have an innate passion for their work (e.g., dedicated staff who work in nonprofits) will disengage from an employer and seek to go elsewhere if the culture is toxic.

  4. A provoking thought Reese, mahalo.

    Employers can and should offer an environment where the concepts of company goals, values, objectives, and commitment to the big picture are clear defined. They must also format this environment in a manner where each of these concepts are woven into all forms of internal and external communications and marketing efforts on a daily basis.

    Employees having the opportunity to experience the work environment will decide for themselves at which level they will embrace their work and when they choose, it will be with greater conviction.
    A strongly defined culture creates a contagious level of engagement where the “calling” has much to offer towards personal well being.

  5. Employers have the ability to create that “calling” outlook first by the way the front line manager coaches daily to provide feedback linking the employees actions (specific behaviors) to the result, tieing that result to the companies success, then once the employee makes that link they now have the ability to create “calling” outlook in them selves. Once they do that you get discretionary effort from the employees – or contributing to the goals because they want to! thats when they join the “calling”

  6. I agree with Stephanie, the “calling” attitude can be developed. I myself have noticed that during the initial interview process, employers will ask questions suggesting that they want to hire those that see their job opening as a “calling” to prospective hires. I have also noticed, that once hired, these same employers do very little to support or inspire this attitude. Companies want those with “callings”, yet, don’t seem to know how to inspire it on different levels of management, especially for those customer-facing employees. To hire and develop these “called” employees, companies need to bridge that gap between knowing about employee engagement, and implementing it with a shift in how they see, treat and train the managers to inspire these employees.

  7. I agree with many of the comments already posted. Much of the “power” resides in the hands of managers and how they motivate their team and align strengths and passions with responsibilities in a strategic way. In addition to that though, employees need to own up and take responsibility to reach that “calling” level into their own hands. You can’t sit back and wait for someone else to do it for you. Here’s another post from that perspective on Core Chat, titled “6 Ways to Own Your Engagement.”

  8. In the end, the responsibility lies with both. Anything that is one sided is doomed from the start. The biggest mistake that employees and employers make is not recognizing when someone has gone from Calling to Job. Things change over time. Whether they are personal/family priorities or even company priorities, things change. Instead of providing proper out-placement, money is wasted attempting to re-engage an employee. The majority of the time that never works and the money is wasted.

  9. Great post Reese. I think the employer plays a huge part in creating the type of environment that facilitates the individual to see their work as a calling. In the end though, it is the employee who chooses to engage at this level. If a business rarely sees this level of engagement, the culture is clearly not supporting it. I believe this type of culture results when a business has a strong and clearly demonstrated sense of purpose, employees are empowered to make a significant contribution to that purpose and there is a strong underlying sense of respect and appreciation allowing all employees to feel like a valued part of the team.

  10. I had to chuckle at my reaction to reading this, and have to conclude that for some of us, these orientations are simply who we are…

    When I read about becoming a “more productive asset of human capital to my company”, all I could wonder is why it would ever be sensible to do so without more pay. And honestly, I’d rather save my engagement energies for my personal leisure time if it isn’t needed at work, because those activities are what I choose freely, and not connected to running the company of whoever is employing me.

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