Finding Your Calling: A Talk with Amy Wrzesniewski

October 6, 2016

By Veena McCoole

Amy Wrzesniewski, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Yale School of Management, has been part of the SOM faculty for 11 years and recently spoke as part of the Yale Women Innovators Series at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. Her research has focused on how people derive meaning from their work, which can broadly be categorized in three groups: the experience of work as a job, career or calling.

People who view their work as a “job” see it mainly as a means of income. A “career” is work framed as a stepping stone along an occupational trajectory. A “calling” occurs when someone believes in the meaning of the work they do, regardless of pay or prestige. Her research also involves studying how employees shape their interactions and relationships with others in the workplace to change both their work identity and the meaning of the job.

Dr. Wrzesniewski described the lack of ambiguity regarding how people frame work in these three categories, and said that the way someone perceives their work — as a calling, for example — is unrelated to their talent or ability, but rather, how they feel.

Furthermore, those with higher education and those who fall into higher income brackets are more likely to see their work as a calling. Those who view their work as a “calling” exhibit high performance in the workplace and report better work-life satisfaction. Work framed as a “job” and “career” are indistinguishable in research, compared to large differences in work framed as a “calling.”

Work orientations of a “job” or “career” seem to travel through the father, whereas mothers are more responsible for a sense of calling to work.

Interestingly, Dr. Wrzesniewski mentioned studies that focus on changes in calling for certain jobs. An interesting study conducted on zookeepers found that the perception of their work as a calling didn’t change over time, whereas nurses entered their work in a “calling” mindset — which typically changed to a “job” or “career” mindset over time.

The Yale Women Innovators Series is held at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (254 Elm St., 3rd Floor). It is open to Yale women students, alumni, faculty and staff interested in entrepreneurship and innovation at any level