Job, Career, or Calling? It´s the Attitude, Stupid!

The other day, for a German news outlet I regularly blog for, I wrote something on Amy Wrzesniewski´s research on our orientations towards work – so why not do it here as well.

Conventional wisdom tells us that there are more meaningful (e.g., nurse) and less meaningful (e.g., cleaner) jobs out there. Yet, Wrzesniewski and her colleagues found that the level of meaning (or purpose) we can derive from our work is only partly dependent on the type of job per se. The way we think (or feel) about what we do seems to have more importance in this matter. The researchers describe three separate (but not mutually exclusive) orientations that people can take on vis-à-vis their occupation: a) job; b) career; c) work.

Work Orientation: Job

People in this category tend to perceive their work as a means to an end. They work for the paycheck/benefits to support their life outside of work. Accordingly, they prefer jobs which do not interfere with their personal lives and typically do not have a strong connection to the workplace or their job duties.

Work Orientation: Career

Individuals displaying a “career” orientation are more likely to focus on job attributes related to prestige and success. They will be foremost interested in opportunites for upward movement, e.g., receiving raises and titles, and the social standing that come along with that.

Work Orientation: Calling

Employees with a “calling” orientation typically describe their work as an integral part of their lives and their identities. Accordingly, they feel that their careers are a form of self-expression and fulfillment.

The crucial point is: Wrzesniewski and her colleagues found that individuals displaying a “calling” orientation are more likely to be highly engaged – and satisfied with their work and their lives in general. And while there are types of jobs that indeed yield a higher percentage of employees displaying this attitude, the researchers were able to show that each orientation frequently appears within all walks of life.

Typically, this involves being able to “see the big picture” (and thus, leadership comes into play). E.g., a cleaner in a hospital setting might say that she helps to “save lives” (instead of, e.g., cleaning the beds) because she knows that she helps to kill off bacteria that otherwise might infect and kill the patients.

Now, I don’t know how the people displayed in the following video view their work – but they´ve surely turned it into something extraordinary – even though most of them seem to work in rather ordinary jobs. Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s