Work as a Calling (Part 2)

Last week I wrote about three different approaches to work: Work as a job, a career, or a calling.  The benefits of seeing work as a calling, to the individual and the organization, can be profound. In that article I pointed out that one way to shift to work to a calling, is through engaging your strengths (or helping your coworkers and employees engage theirs).  The full article can be found here.

A second pathway to calling, is to recognize the meaning associated with your work.

Usually when we think of meaning and work, we think of meaning “in” the work we do.  Paramedics saving lives. Human rights lawyers helping people flee torture.  Counselors consoling the desperate.

In our better moments, almost all of us can find some connection between what we do, and something bigger than ourselves:  The real estate agent helping a young couple realize a dream. An assembly line worker being able to put her children through school. A web designer helping an artist bring his beauty and vision to the world. First step: Look for those connections and you will have a better chance of shifting your work to a calling.

But at other times the work feels too far removed, to remote from anything resembling meaning. In those times, it helps to look for other sources of meaning as it relates to work.enclosed please find my dad

Psychologists Michael Pratt and Blake Ashforth talk about meaning ‘in” work, as discussed above. But they also distinguish it from meaning “at” work.    Meaning at work involves how we affect the people around us.

Regardless of the mission of our organization, our job function, or the various uncomfortable tasks we must do, we all come into contact with others.  How we respond to them, will affect their productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency. It will also affect their satisfaction with work and with life.

In addition, researchers have demonstrated that how we interact with one another has measurable effects on others three degrees removed from the encounter. Whether we cooperate with one another, take advantage of someone, or encourage others affects the behavior and emotional experience of people who were not even involved in the original interaction.  What we do really does have a ripple effect throughout the social network.

We all have the ability to make other people’s lives a little easier and a little more pleasant. We can work hard and be diligent about workplace issues, while still being gentle on one another.

Second Step: Pay attention to how we affect others at work. Look for ways that we can honor the humanity of those around us: Ways that we can make them make them feel appreciated and valued and make their lives a little easier and a little more pleasant.

By so doing, you will affect others in positive ways, and have a greater sense of meaning at work.


Pratt, Michael G., & Ashforth, Blake E., Fostering Meaningfulness in Working and at Work (2003), in K.S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton & R.E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship (pp. 309-327).  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Christakis, N. A., & Fowler, J. H. (2011). Connected: the surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives: how your friends’ friends’ friends affect everything you feel, think, and do. New York: Back Bay Books.

Image Credit

Enclosed please find . . .My Dad, by Hartwig HKD made available via an Attribution -NoDerivs Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Copyright © 2017 John A Doyle, Jr.



One Comment

  1. Pingback: Overcoming Workplace Stress – Sean Doyle

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