What Does it Mean to have Calling Work Orientation?

How to get the most from your work based on what drives you at work


Garrett Mintz , Thu 6 January 2022

Work Orientation is how you derive meaning from work

Everyone has their own way of deriving meaning from work. We call this your Work Orientation. Research has helped show that people generally fall into one of three major categories based on how they find meaning at work. Some people are:
Career Oriented – or motivated by professional growth like getting promoted or learning new skills that support career advancement. 
Calling Oriented – or motivated by the fulfillment from doing the work and making a positive impact on the world with their work.
Job Oriented – or motivated by gaining greater control over work/life balance and gaining material benefits to support their life outside of work.
Work Orientation is fluid, meaning it likely will change throughout your life and be impacted by both personal and professional events. Work Orientation is also on a spectrum, meaning that you aren’t necessarily purely career, calling, or job oriented, and many people have mixed orientations.
Next, I’m going to share tips on how work orientation affects your work, either as a manager or as an employee, and how you could leverage this information to create a better, more sustainable work environment.
Calling Oriented
As a Calling Oriented Professional
If you are a calling-oriented professional, it means you are motivated by changing the world through your work. Your professional life and personal mission are intertwined. In a work setting, it can be frustrating if your work loses its clarity as to how it is changing the world. Eventually, you will become burnt out if you don’t receive clarity and reinforcement as to how your work is positively impacting the world.
Advocating for yourself and asking your manager to have these conversations can seem daunting, especially if your manager does not share your work orientation. But, for you to gain value and meaning from your work, it is critical that you have regular conversations with your manager about why the work is meaningful to you and find ways that reinforce and build more meaningful work practices. Your fellow coworkers may not also be calling-oriented and may not share your drive for changing the world through your work. But that is okay as long as you can work with your boss to stay cognizant of your impact and nourish your drive to continue making a difference.
Here are some suggested questions and suggestions you can use to help you broach the topic with your manager:
  • Hi {manager name}, I was wondering if we could have a conversation sometime over the next week or two so I could dive deeper with you into our work and how our work impacts the people we serve?
    • This may seem like a daunting question to ask your manager, but a good manager would much prefer you be upfront with them about your motivation for work. This helps you build a shared perspective and helps you find new ways to approach team goals. A good manager knows that for calling-oriented people like you, these tough conversations are crucial for understanding the meaning of your work and finding new ways to change the world. 
  • What is the biggest benefits people gain from the work we do? How does our work positively impact their lives?
  •  Can you share with me any recent testimonials from our clients about how our product/service positively impacted them?
  •  What are some of our goals for further impacting our clients in the future? How can I get more involved in having a positive impact on our clients?
  •  Some of my goals for impacting the world through work are {xyz}. I was wondering if you think it could be possible for me to work towards some of those goals over the next year? If so, which goals make the most sense for our team? If not, what do you think would be a realistic goal for me over the next year?
Managing a Calling Oriented Professional
Calling-oriented professionals are motivated by the belief that they are positively changing the world through their work. As a manager, you may not be calling-oriented and that is okay.
But it is critical that you nourish this drive from your calling-oriented direct reports, or they will leave to seek out work that better satisfies their calling to change the world through their work.
Calling-oriented professionals need regular confirmation that their work is making a difference. It can be easy for them to get lost in the minutiae and lose focus as to why they are doing the work. If your calling-oriented professionals lose focus on the “why” to work, they will become disengaged and eventually seek out better prospects. For example, I have seen calling-oriented professionals leave nonprofits because they lost sight of the positive outcomes driven by their work. 
Calling-oriented professionals will bend over backward to do a great job, so long as it’s clear that their hard work is making a difference. Calling-oriented professionals often can stay highly engaged, even for seemingly grueling work with long hours and not incredible pay, because truly believe in the value of the work they are doing. Often, this includes their manager regularly reinforcing how their work impacts the people they serve. 
Just to be clear, eventually, there comes a point where a calling can only get you so far. Work orientation is fluid and can change, and this shift can make previously acceptable conditions no longer tenable for a calling-oriented professional. When you are asking your people to do too much, consistent reinforcement will eventually run dry, often the case in startups with a charismatic founder. Their work orientation will adapt, and they will demand more from their work before being ready to switch back into that calling-oriented workstyle. But, if you are leading calling-oriented professionals, it is critical that you nourish their drive for impact regularly and creatively. "Regularly” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here, but once per month is a good benchmark, especially if you can find new ways to connect your employees to the greater value of their work.
Here are some suggested questions you can ask your calling oriented direct reports to better understand their goals and aspirations:
  • In your perspective, what is the best way we impact our customers?
  • How could see us making an even greater impact on the world?
  • How could you see our business growth goals also impacting the world?
  • Throughout a typical month, what typically reinforces to you that we are on track and continuing to impact the world in a positive way?
  • I would like to schedule another conversation with you in a month. Over the next month, I would like us both to brainstorm additional ways we are impacting the clients we serve and ways we can be more innovative at better serving them – even if they all aren’t realistic at the moment. Does that sound okay with you? (then put the date and time on the calendar for the next meeting!)


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