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!