Positive Business: Is your work a calling?

May 23, 2014

By: Wayne Baker

Originally posted on Our Values

What do you think of the work you do?

Is work a curse? Just what you have to do to make a living? Or, does your work serve a higher purpose? What work means to you—and how you can recraft your job to make it more meaningful and joyful—are parts of positive business.

Let’s start with: What does your job mean to you? Work orientation is the phrase we use to refer to the meaning of work for a person. The seminal work on this way done by Amy Wrzesniewski, a business school professor at Yale University. Amy discovered three basic work orientations. Usually, each person has a dominant orientation.

Which one comes closest to how you feel about your work?

  • JOB ORIENTATION: People with a job orientation look at work as something they do to earn a livelihood. They might be very good at their work, but it doesn’t have any special meaning or purpose for them. They do it for the money. If they won the lottery, they would quit right away.
  • CAREER ORIENTATION: Those with a career orientation see work as a means of getting ahead and moving up the ladder. A good job is one that has good opportunities for promotions and advancement. Getting ahead, we know, is one of the 10 core values I documented in United America.
  • CALLING ORIENTATION: People who see their work as a calling believe it serves a higher purpose and does good in the world. Those with a calling orientation have a passion for what they do. They are fulfilled and energized by their work. If they won the lottery, they would keep doing the same work.

Kathryn Dekas, my former PhD student now in People Analytics at Google, and I got interested in the origins of work orientations. One big influence is parents: How your parents (or guardians) saw their work when you were an adolescent influences your work orientation now as an adult.

One of the most intriguing findings involves the calling orientation. You are more likely to have a calling orientation now if both your parents had calling orientations when you were growing up. Parents who spoke about their passion for the work they did are more likely to produce offspring who also see their work as a calling.

Which orientation is yours: job, career, or calling?

Does it match your recollection of your parents’ orientations when you were growing up?