Job ? Career? Calling?
A man came upon a construction site where three people were working.
He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.”
He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.”
As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?”
The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled,
“I am building a cathedral!”
Research by Amy Wrzesniewski has focused on how people derive meaning from their work, which can broadly be categorized in three groups: the experience of work as a job, career or calling.
People who view their work as
a “job” see it mainly as a means of income.
A “career” is work framed as a stepping stone along an occupational trajectory.
A “calling” occurs when someone believes in the meaning of the work they do, regardless of pay or prestige.
Somewhere along the line, we started to see career-oriented as the only valuable approach to work. Ms Wrzesniewski’s research suggests otherwise. And my experience makes me wonder why we stress “career-oriented” so strongly.
If we see value in all three, employees, managers and companies can benefit. Imagine a well-balanced team, or workforce, where we have a mix of people who are happy where they are and keep adding continuity, experience and value; people who want a career contribute to the team for a while and then add different value to the company in another role; or a person with a calling can be inspired to dedicate most of her life to this particular job or company.
This article gives you information about the three approaches to work; and some suggestions for how managers and individual contributors can receive and offer value with any of them.
I’ve generally found that if a person says work is a job, we think less of them. We expect them to lack dedication. But is that true? If I have a job that is satisfying and enjoyable, but it’s not the most important thing in my life, can I do a good job? Of course I can. Will I refuse to ever work an extra hour, give creative input? Of course I won’t. We seem to relate a Job orientation to lack of willingness to work. Those things are unrelated.
Hiring managers make the mistake of thinking someone who stays in a role for a long time, or whose five-year plan doesn’t include significant advancement somehow doesn’t have enough to offer. Sometimes this might be your best hire. I worked in a large corporation where the sales team were supported by a team of people whose responsibility was to generate leads. They were encouraged to have a career orientation. In fact, the hiring manager was proud of the fact that she told interviewees they wouldn’t “have to” stay in the job too long. That immediately told them the job wasn’t a good one; and encouraged them to always look for an “escape”. So the department never built up any accumulated experience. Every member of that team was a perpetual beginner. In general, the sales team did NOT feel well-supported. There were some great people on that team; but they never stayed long enough to form a true partnership with the people they supported. Career orientation can be too much of a good thing.
On the other hand, I once worked with someone who did lead generation in the same industry as the team described above. It was a job for him; but he really liked it. He didn’t want a promotion. He got such personal fulfillment from things outside work that a career, at least with that company at that point in his life, just wasn’t his focus. But he enjoyed the challenge of handling objections and getting appointments for the sales team. He enjoyed talking to people. He really liked his job; and the company benefited because of that.
Maybe career-oriented isn’t the only way to describe a dedicated, engaged employee. Maybe hiring managers need to look for positive attitudes not only the desire to move ahead.
Bright people with success in their futures are career-oriented. These are the people we should hire because they’re more dedicated, give more time to the job, will stay with the company longer than people who are job-oriented. Right? Sometimes. But not necessarily.
If someone wants advancement and increasing remuneration as part of their employment, they might work extra hard to get those things. It is very possible they will work through an illness, often because they’re afraid not working will hurt their careers. They might put work before hobbies, sometimes even family. And there are times when every company needs some of that attitude. Life balance might be skewed toward work periodically or permanently for good reason, for some careerists.
I’ve also seen employees who focused on career too much. Their push to move forward took focus off the current job requirements. Collaboration took a backseat to self promotion. And their physical, emotional and mental health suffered from the stress of a career.
The hiring manager does well to learn the career aspirations of an interviewee. We seldom want to hire someone who has little interest in the job or company we hire for. If we offer advancement and increased remuneration for added responsibilities, we want the type of people who are motivated by those things. So we should continue to see the positive aspects of a career orientation. But we should take a multi-sided view. What is the interviewee’s whole attitude? Will he be a great member of the team because he sees a chance to fulfill his potential? Great! Will he hurt our corporate culture as he climbs over other people to get to the next promotion? Not so great.
I’m not sure we think about this much at all as we hire. Do you think of a calling as something you find in non profit, charitable segments of our world? There’s truth in part of that. Nurses probably believe in the meaning of the work they do. Mother Teresa most likely did too, and didn’t care at all about pay or prestige. So is a Calling orientation irrelevant in our work teams? I suggest not. If I’m hiring for a non profit business development role, I can expect an interviewee to feel an affinity with my organization because of our community service. That doesn’t mean she won’t be a hard working successful sales person. Or that she won’t see the importance of bringing in money, i.e. donations. At the other end of that spectrum, just because a person is in sales (or accounting or maintenance), demands a high salary and has had progressively impressive titles, doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel her work is a calling. That’s an attitude. Like the bricklayer in the story at the beginning of this article, the same work can be seen in different ways.
Let’s be open minded when we’re hiring and choosing teams.
Can we manage how we feel about our work? Can we make our jobs fulfilling, our careers have a sense of purpose and meaning? In addition to her research into Job|Career|Calling, Amy Wrzesniewski and others have defined the art of job crafting – making your job right for you. An upcoming article and workshop will address this.