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

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May 3, 2013

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.

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.