It keeps beeping, interrupting even the most focused thoughts and conversations: the call waiting signal. Do you answer? Hope the sound will go away? Hope that voicemail will pick it up and you can deal with it later? If you aren’t listening to the call of your work, or aren’t answering the calling you do hear, there’s new research that indicates both that you are not alone, and that answering the call may contribute to your well-being.
There are numerous reasons workers may choose to stay in one vocation even when they feel called to another one. “I’ve been climbing the salary ladder here for some time and I’d have to start over somewhere else.” “I’ve got tenure.” “Teaching is teaching–It’s not likely to be any different in another school.” “I’ve got a family and a mortgage to think of.” Feeling a pull towards something else that might be the “right fit”? This pull may be an unanswered calling. Let’s learn some ways you can answer it.
Unanswered Callings Defined
New research from Berg, Grant, and Johnson (2008) theorizes that an unanswered occupational calling has four parts: an individual feels drawn to pursue it, expects intrinsic enjoyment and meaning from it, considers it central to his or her identity, but—and this is key— he or she is not formally experiencing this in a work role.
Job Crafting for Unanswered Callings
How would you know if you had an unanswered calling? You might be unhappy at work, and not getting enough of what you need to engage your being/knowing/doing strengths and interests. You might find yourself daydreaming about what you’d rather be doing, like working with dogs instead of students, or performing on stage instead of making tests and grading them. You might find your students or colleagues irritating, or the requirements of your job stifling.
One response to this is job changing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006), the average American changes jobs 10 times between the ages of 18 and 40. Yikes! Think of the stress. That’s a new job every 2 ½ years, barely enough time to learn the ropes at the new work, the best commuting route and favorite lunch spot, and to establish solid relationships with coworkers.
Another response can be to pursue the calling during leisure time. In this way someone called to perform may be a member of a choir or community theatre, a person called to be a curator may organize the collection as a volunteer at a non-profit, and someone called to be a writer might journal or blog. There are any number of reasons why a person might not choose to pursue a calling as an occupation, so leisure pursuits can make it possible to answer the call, too.Another response can be job crafting, where workers change the behavioral, cognitive and relational boundaries of their jobs to help them better align with their needs, motives and preferences. The Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan has a great hands-on job crafting exercise that lets you see the potential outcomes of answering your calling at work. New research there by Berg, et al. (2008) identifies education as uniquely structured for job crafting and educators, with their broad interests, as more likely to have unanswered callings than other occupations.
Job Crafting for Educators
In the world of K-12 education, there are a surprising number of ways to job craft, despite the impact of budget crises, or the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Whether you think of your work as a job, career, or calling, you have lots more control over some of the critical features of your work than you might think. You can get more enjoyment out of your work, broaden your work identity, cope better with adversities or perform tasks better.
Here is your first step: Find out whether your current work is a means to an end (job), a pathway to status and achievement (career), or a call from within that provides a sense of purpose, meaning and fulfillment (calling). Amy Wrzesniewski’s Work-Life Questionnaire (take a version here) will get you started. If you don’t find that your occupation is your calling, start listening to those call-waiting alerts. They may be little chiming reminders or great big “Hey You’s”.
Think about the tasks involved in your work. Which ones would you like more of? Fewer of? Assuming that you are not a teacher who does not want to work with students—perhaps then classroom teaching is not for you—you might think of volunteering for the school musical as a set builder or writing a column for the local paper about the strengths of your school community. Want less paperwork? See if the tech-savvy people in your building can help you design time-saving tools.
Do you want more, fewer, or different people contacts in your day? You can craft those, too. Imagine IT staff who crave more social interaction at school working directly with teachers to develop instructional technology applications. The administrative assistant who is feeling overwhelmed by people contact might ask to leave the building for her 30 minute lunch so that she can have some reenergizing downtime, alone.
More complex may be what Berg, Dutton and Wrzesniewski call “Cognitive Crafting”. The maintenance staff may refocus on the beauty they bring to the school, or how the safety record is tied to their “quicker picker-upper” policies. They may even consider themselves teachers, and craft opportunities to interact with students to thank them for leadership in keeping the school neat and safe, too.
Can anyone job craft? Yes. It is possible to think about your work in new ways, and reconsider how you apportion your time, energy and attention, as well as your choices.
Is job crafting always good? While it is possible to beneficially craft your work, be aware that you may may feel frustrated, disappointed or regretful should you discover that in your particular role you cannot answer your calling. I’d say that this is potentially good, since facing the truth about a bad-fit job can open up possibilities that you might otherwise not have considered. This is a particularly good reason to explore leisure crafting.
When I coach work teams, job crafting is almost always a welcome way to think about the richness of strengths and opportunity the group brings, and it can breathe new life into work relationships. So, consider your students, colleagues and boss when your job crafting could affect them, too.
For more information, visit the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, University of Michigan, Ross School of Business. What is Job Crafting and Why Does it Matter? (Berg, Dutton and Wrzesniewski rev. 2008).
Berg, J. M., Grant, A. M., & Johnson, V. (2008). Your callings are calling: Crafting work and leisure in pursuit of unanswered occupational callings. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Hackman, J. R. & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior & Human Performance, 16(2), 250-279.
Wrzesniewski, A. & Dutton, J. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.
Wrzesniewski, A., Rozin, P., & Bennett, G. (2002). Working, playing, and eating: Making the most of most moments. In C. L. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing, The positive person and the good life, 185-204. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Wrzesniewski, A. (2003). Finding positive meaning in work. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton, & R. Quinn, Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, pp. 296-308. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.