Do You Have a Job, a Career or a Calling?

Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski studies people and their jobs.

She has created a method of categorising people’s attitude to their work, defining three simple ways by which people see their employment.  Is your work…

  • A job, a means to an end, a pay-check?  People who think about work this way show up, do what they are told, collect their money and go home.  They don’t feel strongly about what they do, they just want the cash.
  • A career, a way to attain status?  Those with this attitude are motivated by the trappings of success, they work to gain respect and power.
  • A calling, who you are?  For these people, work is part of what they do, integral to their lives.  This group don’t really think about work as work, it is simply how they show up in the world.

Unsurprisingly those with a calling are far more likely to find their work meaningful and they are more satisfied, both in work, but also with life in general.

The big surprise

You would expect that you could predict where people fit, a merchant banker with a million pound bonus will see work as a career, and a nurse, serving the sick would see work as a calling.

But that isn’t the case.  Dr Wrzesniewski found that the distribution was roughly even.  A third of workers fell into each category.  If she looked at bin men she would have found that:

  • A third saw it as a job, the best way they could earn money
  • A third thought it a career step, a way to become a supervisor or depot manager
  • A third believed it was how they contributed to society, keeping their neighbourhood clean, safe and pest free

So what does this mean for you?

People who believe they have a real “purpose” at work are far more likely to be engaged than those who see their work as just a job.  They will deliver more.

OK but, what does this mean for you?

As a manager, what can you do to align the work your staff do with their values?  How can you match their work to their intrinsic purpose, turn their “job” onto a calling?

And for the third time of asking, what does this mean for you?

When you drag yourself out of bed on Monday morning, are you going to a job, career or calling?

Which one applies to you?

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from ~ Seth Godin

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Bin Man

Read another opinion

Image by Denis Defreyne


  1. Hello James

    Purpose makes all the difference. Which is why companies that are social mission driven (in some contributing to a better world) tend to find that there employees put more into the game of business. And it is why most companies have to focus on fear and greed: these are companies whose mission is to enrich the Tops and Shareholders.

    If I was setting up a company I would focus on a worthy mission and attract people who are inspired by that mission. Then I would let them get on with putting themselves fully into the game. My role: remind them of the mission; acknowledge their contribution; deal with the stuff that gets in the way of these people being on mission.


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