Employee Engagement: People Who See Their Job as a Calling Are Happier & Work Harder

Employee Engagement: People Who See Their Job as a Calling Are Happier & Work Harder

Employee engagement helps your employees connect to their purpose at work.

Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewki has spent a life time studying the mindsets we have about our jobs. She has discovered that people see their jobs in one of three ways: As a job, as a career or as a calling. For the job people, work is a chore, merely a means to an end. For the career people, it is a way for personal growth and advancement. For the calling people, the work has meaning in and of itself. This type of thinking starts with employee engagement. 

Employee Engagement: Changing the Mindset

It turns out, not surprisingly, that people who see their work as a calling work longer hours, call in sick less, and are happier than those who see their work as either a job or a career. Of even more interest, is that she has discovered that seeing your job as a calling is less about the job itself than the mindset of the person.

It reminds me of that old story of President John Kennedy touring a NASA facility when he struck up a conversation with a janitor and when Kennedy asked him what his job was he said “helping to put a man on the moon.”  How we see our job matters a lot both for our personal satisfaction and for how we do our work. What’s more an organization of people who see the “calling” in their work are likely to provide vastly different levels of quality and service. Employee engagement is about more than just talking with employees. It’s about changing their mindsets and helping them see work as a calling.

At a recent event for Christus Health in Texas where I was giving an engagement keynote, their regional CEO said to his leaders; “You know whenever I get a letter about someone not being treated well I seem to always trace it back to someone who sees their work as a job. When I get a letter praising us, seems I always trace it back to someone who sees their job as a calling.”

Stepping Up helps you achieve a greater culture of employee engagement.

Stepping Up: Transitioning Employees

Through our workshops on Stepping Up that we do within companies, we have found that it is quite possible to help people transition themselves to think about their job in a different way. Through some simple reflections, most people can get in touch with the deeper meaning of their work and leaders can increase their employee engagement. Once people become aware of the larger purpose of their job, they often bring more of themselves to the workplace.

Leaders of course also have a great deal to do with how people see their jobs. That is why I frequently talk about three core techniques leaders can employ to inspire calling in their people and increase engagement:

1)       Consistently highlight stories of the real difference your products, services and people are making for customers and clients. Ideally we should feature a “higher purpose” story at every meeting. One bank we work with has done this and it has made a significant difference in engagement among their associates.

2)       Have each person identify the higher purpose or calling in their job. Have them pretend that they are trying to recruit someone to their current job by showing them the real difference the job makes thereby writing out a one-two sentence description of that calling.

3)       Help people see the world through the eyes of the customer. Simple example, if you run a hotel help people understand the life of a road warrior or someone who has spent hard earned money to vacation. Lead them to understand what that person’s deeper needs are and how they can service them.

Every week I help people discover the deeper possibilities in their work and help leaders communicate that deeper purpose to their people. That has been part of my calling for thirty years. Research shows how we see our job matters to us and to our customers.


Dr. John Izzo has spoken to over one million people, advised over 500 companies, authored nine best-selling books, and helped some of the world's most admired companies. He has been a pioneer in creating successful businesses and emerging work trends for over twenty-five years.

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