The Fallacy of Calling

Does everyone need a calling to be engaged at work?


Garrett Mintz , Fri 28 February 2020
One common piece of advice I hear is that “you should work towards finding a calling”. The advice makes sense. I mean of 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 and the likelihood of successful mentor relationships. I have also studied correlations between different Work Orientations and levels of engagement at work.

Work Orientation is how one view’s their work. Some people view their work as a job (motivated by work/life balance), some people view their work as a career (motivated by professional growth), and some people view their work as a calling (motivated by personal/professional mission alignment).

My team and I learned that Work Orientation is fluid, meaning that 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, that the likelihood that relationship lasts for 6 months and is considered both productive and quality 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 current research does break workplace engagement into 4 separate categories: emotional attachment to the work, energy received from doing the work, social connection with those whom 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, but that some Work Orientations are more engaged in certain types of engagement than others.

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

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

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

The point is that maybe not everybody needs a calling. Everybody runs in their own lane and lives their own life and can achieve happiness and self-actualization in their own way. Assuming that everyone needs a calling may put people in uncomfortable situations and make them feel a way that they aren’t. And just because somebody doesn’t view their work as a calling right now doesn’t mean that they never will.

To adequately share the data and the other side of this point, our research also indicates that people that are career and calling oriented are more receptive to participating in employee mentor programs. Since employee mentorship - done successfully - leads to increased workplace engagement, greater collaboration across teams, and improved productivity, you could also make a counterargument.


Building Mentor Connections Through Work Orientation

Kickstarting Mentorships For Fulfilling Careers