Work as a Calling (Part 1)

How do you describe your work?

Is it just a means to pay the bills?  Something that fills the day that you can’t wait to end?   Or is it something you basically enjoy, but don’t expect to be doing in five years? You have bigger plans and other goals.    Or do you consider your work to be fundamentally part of who you are?  It is something essential and important.  You love it. It makes the world better. You don’t ever want to stop.

Most likely your work, and that of your coworkers, will be blend of all three: A little of this one, a lot of another. It will shift from day-to-day depending upon what you have to do, or encounters with a boss or peer or client.  However, most of us fit into one of these three dominant profiles.

Companies often state they want their employees to see work a “career” (#2 above) and not just a “job” (#1). They design incentives and development programs with this in mind. That is good.  People who approach work as a career are more engaged, sick less often, and more likely to meet their work-related goals, then those who consider work to be just a “job”.

But there is a third approach: Work as a calling.  When we hear “calling” we tend to think of ministers or artists, teachers or those focused on the bigger things.  Associates in a law firms don’t usually come to mind. Nor do middle managers or short order cooks.

However research has shown that no matter the role or function, roughly one-third of workers see what they do as a “job”, one-third see it as a “career”, and a third approach it as a “calling”. Whether they are a doctor or CEO, a grocery clerk or sheet metal worker, roughly one third see their work as a calling. To a certain extent, it is not our role that makes the difference.  (To a certain extent: More on that in a later article)Women Heed The Call

So when we try to help our employees see work as a “career”, we are limiting their success and their happiness.  We are doing the same thing to ourselves.

When compared to those who approach work as a career, people with a sense of calling identify more with the team, have greater trust in management, are more committed, work better with one another, have less conflict, and are more satisfied with both their coworkers and the work itself. We want our employees to see their work as a calling.  We want to see our work as a calling.

Pathways to Calling:  Strengths

One way to turn our work into a calling is through job recrafting to tap into, and utilize our strengths.  By strengths I don’t mean our oral advocacy skills, or ability to add a line of figures.  Rather, I mean our strengths of character: Those things that make us the most who we are, when we are, our best. It might be kindness or curiosity, persistence or perspective.  They are the types of personal virtues that define us, but that we often leave in the car when we show up at the office in the morning.

First Step: Identify your strengths.  Whether at work or at play, notice when you are the most engaged, energetic and alive.  What is going on?  What personal attributes are you tapping into?  Another way to identify your strengths is through a free assessment found here.

Second Step: Once you have identified your strengths, find ways to bring them into what you do every day. We all have things we do not want to do. There are difficult clients and the bad news we have to tell the boss. However, if we create new ways to approach old tasks, we will be more likely to find greater purpose and joy in our work.

For example: Think of some boring task you have done a thousand times and will have to do a thousand more. If curiosity is one of your strengths, look for what is different about the task this time.  If you look, you will notice something subtle that you had not seen before. Suddenly the work will be more interesting.   Or what you are high in kindness and have to deal with a difficult coworker?  Address the issue, but also maintain a commitment to the humanity of the other.   It might still be uncomfortable, but you will be more effective and more centered, while also being gentle on both you and them.Work as a Calling

There is no one script for everyone to follow. Be creative and playful.  But recognize that in the end, there will still be some tasks and responsibilities that are just miserable, tedious or boring. However if you are injecting the best aspects of yourself into your work more often, those difficult moments will not be as dominate or defining, and what you do everyday will feel more like your calling.

*** Check back next week for a Second Pathway to creating a sense of Calling at Work:  Meaning

Selected References

Wrzesniewski, A. (2003).  Finding positive meaning at work.  In K. Cameron, J. Dutton, & R. Quinn, Eds.  Positive organizational scholarship:  Foundations of a new discipline.  San Francisco:  Berrett Kohler.  P. 306

Copyright © 2016 John A Doyle, Jr.


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