Garrett Mintz: The fallacy of thinking that work must be a calling

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Garrett MintzOne common piece of advice I hear is that “you should work toward finding a calling.” The advice seems to make sense. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is at the top, and it is easy to assume that finding a calling is consistent with achieving self-actualization.

But what if it’s not?

What if we have it wrong?

I work in the space of implementing employee mentor programs for companies, and I have studied extensively the correlation between aligned work orientation—the way one views his or her work—and the likelihood of successful mentor relationships. I have also studied correlations between different work orientations and levels of engagement at work.

Some people view their work as a job, meaning they are motivated by having a work/life balance. That is their work orientation.

Some people view their work as a career, meaning they are motivated by professional growth. And still others view their work as a calling, which means they are motivated by an alignment of their personal and professional missions.

My team and I learned that work orientation is fluid, meaning it can change throughout one’s life. We also learned that when people don’t share a similar work orientation and are matched together for a mentoring relationship, the likelihood that the relationship lasts for six months and is considered both quality and productive diminishes significantly.

But is there a correlation between one type of work orientation and being more engaged at work?

Our current research indicates no.

Our research does break workplace engagement into four separate categories: emotional attachment to the work, energy received from doing the work, social connection with those whom you are doing the work with, and level of fulfillment from the work itself.

Our current research indicates that there is no one work orientation that is more engaged at work than another. However, some work orientations are more associated with certain types of engagement than others.

People who are job-oriented gain more workplace engagement from social connection with those with whom they are doing the work than are people who are career- or calling-oriented.

People who are career-oriented gain more workplace engagement from the energy received doing the work than people who are job- or calling-oriented.

People who are calling-oriented gain more workplace engagement from the level of fulfillment from the work itself than people who are career- or job-oriented.

The point is that maybe not everybody needs a calling. Workers run in their own lanes and live their own lives and can achieve happiness and self-actualization in their own ways. Assuming that everyone needs a calling might put some workers in uncomfortable situations and make them strive for something that isn’t important to them. And just because a worker doesn’t view his or her work as a calling right now doesn’t mean he or she never will.

Having said that, our research also indicates that people who are career- and calling-oriented are more receptive to participating in employee mentor programs.

And because employee mentorship—done successfully—leads to increased workplace engagement, greater collaboration across teams and improved productivity, I invite you to make a counterargument to my larger point.•


Mintz is founder of Ambition in Motion, a Bloomington-based firm that helps companies increase employee engagement and collaboration by implementing corporate mentor programs.

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