It’s a warm spring evening, and you’re making small talk with someone you just met. Inevitably, one of you is going to ask the ultimate question: “So what do you do?”
At this moment, there are different ways that this conversation can go. Either your conversation partner’s eyes will light up and you will be treated to a 5-minute monologue about what they do, the challenges they face and what they love about their work. Or the subject is over after just one sentence, you say “Right, interesting” and the conversation moves on.
According to the Gallup Engagement Index 2020, the number of German employees who are loyal to their employer is steadily sinking over time. Only 61 percent of employees surveyed intend to stay with their current company for at least another year no matter what happens. In 2019, that number was 73 percent of employees, and in 2018 it was as high as 78 percent. 37 percent of people are already searching for a new job. According to the index, around 5.7 million employees are already in a state of internal resignation (they have mentally checked out and decided to quit). Doesn’t sound like they’re particularly satisfied at work!
So this month, here at Humanoo, we asked ourselves: what relationship can and should we have with work, and when are we working in conflict with ourselves? We discussed it as a team, and came to the conclusion that work can be approached in three different ways: as a job, as a calling, or as a career.
In this article, we examine the strengths of each of these approaches. After all, this is important information for managers and the HR department. It helps them to understand their employees better, allowing them to offer employees the satisfaction they want at work.
Of course, we know these are very broad generalisations and that people are too complicated to be sorted into just one of three boxes. So as you read further, don’t worry if you feel like one single approach can’t possibly describe you, and recognise parts of yourself in each category.
The Job: a career is just a way to make money
Those who take this approach view work solely as a way of earning money, a means of generating income. For people with this approach, life is what happens after work: when they are with their family and friends, or engaged in hobbies and activities that have nothing to do with their job.
In this case, the goal is to not bring home the stress from work. These people will usually draw clear boundaries between their job and their private life. One manifestation of these boundaries could be an insistence that they go home on time and take all scheduled breaks. Because these employees usually don’t identify with their employer beyond recognising that they need them to make money, it’s easier for them to check out.
This may not seem like a good thing at first, but it does have its advantages:
- These employees are less likely to experience burn out, because they do a better job of separating their private and professional lives.
- They are also better at providing constructive criticism, because they don’t automatically assume everything their employer does is positive.
- They cause fewer conflicts, because they are less emotionally invested in what they do.
- This in turn means they are better at dealing with setbacks within the company.
Interestingly enough, the majority of employees – 68 percent – have this approach to work. They love working to rule and have no intention of becoming emotionally invested in their employer. We were just as surprised to learn that as you are!
If you feel like you belong to this group, it is important to understand that there is nothing wrong with distancing yourself emotionally from work and thinking of your job as just a job, not a calling, as long as you are not feeling conflicted about what you do.
Studies show that employees who feel conflicted and have checked out at work switch jobs more often and lack initiative, motivation and a sense of responsibility. They are absent from work more often and less productive when they are in the office (Gallup Index).
The Calling: work fulfils me
For those with this approach, work provides meaning. Their job must have a purpose. They want work to fulfil them, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
They want their professional life to reflect their personal values. They do not simply work to earn money and climb the career ladder; they want their job to match their own interests. Work is an expression of their personal identity.
According to the study “Meaning and Purpose at Work”, 9 out of 10 of those surveyed were even willing to accept a lower salary in order to engage in meaningful work.
Finding your work meaningful has many advantages:
- When their job reflects their values, employees are happier, healthier and therefore more creative at work.
- They are more willing to take on responsibilities above and beyond their job description and really commit to getting the job done.
- Their emotional connection to the company fosters a collegial attitude amongst their co-workers and improves cooperation.
- These employees are extremely engaged, because they believe that the company’s goals are worth achieving.
It is important to note, however, that ‘meaningful’ means something different for each person. Many of us might be imagining charity work, NGOs or companies focused on sustainability, but others might find meaning in a trade or craft.
For example, a survey carried out by the Institute for Small Business Economics in Göttingen found that 79 percent of tradespeople surveyed saw their job as an important part of their personality. 84 percent said that they were proud of their work. 66 percent even said they were passionate about their work and 65 percent agreed that their job was their calling. Interesting, right?
The Career: my goal is to climb the career ladder
Those who take this approach want a career because of what that career brings with it: social status. Ideally, they would like their resume to include the names of large companies and corporations. Many of those with this approach want influence, and they will do whatever it takes to get it.
So it’s no surprise that some of their strengths include:
- Stress resistance, they won’t crack under pressure.
- Their job is their priority, so they tend to be high performers.
- They want to take on responsibility and manage others on their team.
- They are usually quite loyal to their employer and identify strongly with the company, and are willing to do what it takes to achieve company goals.
How do I find out what I want from work?
Regardless of which category (or categories?) you belong in, the ultimate goal is to make sure that your professional life is in line with your personal values.
This allows you to identify with your work, but to do that you will need to know what your personal values are and identify what is particularly important to you and what you consider non-negotiable.
But how do you discover what is important to you? Good question! And you’ll be relieved to know we have no intention of offering a short multiple-choice quiz to help you to discover your personal values. No-one else can do that work for you. However, over the course of this monthly series, we will be presenting interesting facts and thoughts on the subject of careers and callings, so you will have plenty of food for thought.
The good news is that unconsciously, you have already defined your values and act in accordance with them every day. Most of us simply don’t realise that that is what we are doing. Friendliness, honesty, commitment, trust or success are just a few examples of values that might be important to you.
We are more satisfied at work when we act in accordance with our values
If we have a job that reflects our values, as opposed to one in which we blindly follow directions, we are more motivated and passionate at work. Which makes it easier for us to get things done.
A study by the Wertestiftung (a German organisation focused on shared values) discovered that employees are more satisfied at work when they can see that company leadership has and acts on personal values. We therefore recommend that managers and HR departments allow their personal values to become part of meetings and interactions with employees, instead of simply sticking to purely work-related subjects.
Further studies show that if we are unhappy, it is often not the job itself that is bothering us, it is that we are failing to act in accordance with our personal values.
An example: if you are a natural leader and love trying new things, but work in a company with no opportunities to lead or experiment, you will soon start to feel unhappy, like a flower denied water.
On the other hand: if you love being organised but work at a chaotic company, and if the chaos continues, you will soon start to feel conflicted; you might want to run away and start to check out mentally.
So it is always a good idea to find out what is important to you and what you need to bloom and grow. Likewise, it is important to recognise situations that cause you to wither and fall apart.
Discover your personal values
Obviously, there is no one formula for a happy work life. Just like people can’t easily be sorted into only three different groups. Your personality is incredibly complex, so only you can truly know what makes you happy. And the jobs and environments that make you happy may change as you move through life – that’s perfectly OK, in fact it’s normal.
All the more reason to learn to listen carefully to your body and mind and to remember to ask yourself: “Am I acting in accordance with my values right now?”
It’s a great question, and particularly worth asking next time you feel terrible (that might be a good sign that you are acting against your values). Or maybe something to consider next time you feel like you could jump for joy after a meeting (a good sign!).
The better you understand your day-to-day life, the easier it will be to define your values and discover what makes you happy and what doesn’t. From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to finding the right job with the right duties, designed to make you happy over the long term.
We are thrilled to be your guide along that path.
Your Humanoo team