Why do you work? If you’re a leader in your organisation, why do your team members work? Is work a means to an end; a push for advancement and status; or is work valued by you and your team for its own sake? This was an area that I investigated deeply as I conducted my PhD research at the University of Wollongong.
Jobs, Careers, and Callings
It seems that a large percentage of us have a dominant view of work as either a job, a career, or a calling.
If we see our work as a job, we approach it as what we have to do so that we can go and do what we want to do. We find ourselves resonating with the phrase, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” This clip, from the movie Office Space, describes what work feels like for many people. It’s not particularly inspiring. The emphasis is on doing exactly what is required to clear the ‘expectations’ bar, and not a thing more. In fact, if less can be done, that’s great! Work in a job is about the paycheque.
When we see our work as something that offers the outward trappings of success and advancement, we may be in a career. We don’t mind what we do, so long as we are climbing the ladder and looking good while we do it. Those with a career focus are willing to work hard and have high levels of commitment, but the commitment is to personal success rather than to the organisation.
If we have a calling, we find tremendous meaning in our work. We’d gladly work 7 days a week on our work, and we blur the lines between work and leisure time, not because of deadlines and workload, but because we are genuinely passionate about what we do. We’re not in it for the money. In fact the work we do is really just an extension of who we are. We see the work as meaningful and purposeful – and impactful.
Compared with those who identify best with a job or a career, people who see work as a calling are significantly more satisfied with their jobs and with their lives! They’re more engaged in what they do at work, perform better, take fewer days off, and are more productive.
What I find most interesting about this tri-dimensional model of work is that people from all parts of the work spectrum will identify broadly with one of the three orientations to work. It’s not just people in high-status jobs who feel a sense of calling. In fact, often people in such jobs may feel trapped, or may only be doing it for the status, the perks, or the high pay. They may have very low levels of commitment and zero passion for what they do. People in low-skill or low-education work may respond that their work is changing lives and helping others function in valuable ways. They may see tremendous meaning in their work… or they may not.
Because seeing work as a calling is so powerfully predictive of both personal and professional outcomes, researchers have identified processes we can work through to increase the sense of purpose and meaning people feel in their work. The process is called job crafting.
When we work towards a job-crafting approach we move away from the standard organisational job description and provide a sense of autonomy to the employee (or to ourselves) to allow them to shape their work along three central dimensions: task, relational, and cognitive boundaries.
Task boundaries refer to the actual tasks that need to be completed by a team member. When we shift these boundaries, we look at the things that light us up, utilise our strengths, and help us to be at our best at work. Inasmuch as the workplace structure allows, we shift our time allocation to those tasks that help us feel our work is meaningful and purposeful.
When we develop new relationship boundaries we literally shift the focus of our work towards those with whom we work with best. We craft our work to facilitate engagement with people we like to work with, who inspire us, or who we interact with for the best outcomes. By changing the relationship boundaries we have at work so that we are working with the right people, we can dramatically change the way work works.
Of course, not all organisations and not all jobs allow for a level of flexibility that facilitates shifts in task and relationship boundaries. This may mean the only option available for some staff is to change the way they see their work. Making this cognitive switch is not easy, particularly for those who have taken a ‘job for life’ approach, and really do see work as simply a means to an end. But providing leadership, communicating their integral role, and helping them see just how important they are in the big picture can help to shift that mindset. When people see that they are not just another cog in the wheel, but that their role and contribution is critical to relationships, and to the success of an organisation, this new vision can dramatically enhance the way they work and the meaning they derive from their work.
Other ideas include providing autonomy, strengthening relationships, and offering opportunity for personal and professional improvement.
Whether you’re a leader, a teacher, an accountant, an administrator, a nurse, a psychologist, or a parent, the approach you bring to your work affects the way you do your work, and the way others experience their day. By crafting your role the right way, you can grow and develop, and help more people. Plus, you’ll be happier… and you might even be excited when Monday morning rolls around.
For more information about Justin speaking at your workplace on wellbeing at work, positive psychology, and relationships, click on the speaking tab above.