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Is your job a calling (and its impact on your engagement)?


I’ve written a number of times about the factors influencing employee engagement levels.  The open innovation world suggests that what often motivates participants is the ability to engage in tasks they have a real passion for, and the control over how they fulfill that engagement.

Truly loving your work does of course have many other benefits, such as providing you with the motivation and desire to invest in your personal development.  You might think therefore, that having a workforce that can honestly say their work is a calling would be a good thing in terms of their employee engagement.

A recent paper set out to explore just that question.  First of all, it’s worth understanding just what qualifies as a calling in the first place.  The researchers identify three main characteristics:

  1. A perfect fit between the employees skills/interests, and the requirements of their job
  2. A sense of meaning to their work
  3. An affirming, transcendent guiding force (no, I’ve no idea either)

The general feeling is that those whose work is a calling have a greater sense that their ideal self is aligned with their actual self.

“People who are able to realize their calling in the world of employment often experience a perfect fit between their interests and skills and the requirements of their job,” the researchers say. “Thus, called people often identify themselves with their work and realize their full potential while performing their work.”

The researchers asked a pool of German professionals about their work.  How engaged were they?  Did they consider it a calling?  How satisfied were they with life in general?

They also tested to see whether their real life selves were evenly matched with their ideal selves by asking each participant to select five attributes from a list that they would ideally possess, before then rating how accurately these attributes described them (of course, self reporting is known to be rather inaccurate in these things, but anyway).

This experiment was then replicated with a group of nurses over a 16 week period.

The results revealed that when people believed that they had realized their personal calling, they were generally mote satisfied with their lives.  To maintain this level of satisfaction, it was important that each person had a good fit between their ideals and the reality of their work.  If they weren’t engaged, the deal was broken.

As stated above, these were all self reported, so a degree of caution should be attached to the findings.  The researchers also suggest that additional research would be required to explore the various other factors that might impact upon our calling and our general life satisfaction.  They suggest that this could include levels of social support, or the amount of feedback we receive at work.

Nevertheless, they believe their findings are important in highlighting the importance of matching up the things we value in life with the requirements our work make of us.  The findings correlate with the earlier research exploring what motivates people to participate in crowdsourced projects.

It should provide some useful guidance, both to us all as individuals, but also to those within our organizations tasked with managing talent.


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