The majority of Make Your Job a Calling is geared towards helping individuals understand and live out their callings. Yet we also know that an individual’s ability to understand and live their calling can be hindered or supported by their work environment. If you are in supervisory, managerial, or ownership role within an organization, the working world needs your help! This is because you have a level of influence that can be used to shape the workplace into the kind of environment that can help those who work for you grow and live their callings. Of course, having employees who are living out their callings are also the best kind of employees to have. So how do you build this type of atmosphere? We offer a few suggestions.
Know your employees’ passions
For many supervisors, it is easy to develop a laser focus on the task at hand. You might repeatedly ask yourself, “What needs to be accomplished and what do my employees need do to accomplish it?” Focusing too narrowly on the answer to this question can lead to an impersonal, numbers-driven management style that can push employees away and lead to a decreased sense that the work is meaningful. A primary reason for this is that in many jobs, the specific tasks that you need your employees to complete on a particular day do not necessarily align with the tasks about which your employees are most passionate or engaged. We recommend that supervisors meet frequently with their individual employees one-on-one to gain an understanding of what it is that drives them, regardless of how well the answer fits with the present requirements of their job descriptions. When employees are doing what they are passionate about, their work will be better, and if these passions arise from a calling they may feel especially satisfied. These are exactly the type of employees that you want working for you. An awareness of these passions will then help you determine what tasks to give to certain employees, or how employees might craft their jobs to bring them into closer alignment with their values and goals. The result will be a win for both you and your employees.
Help your employees help others
One of the themes that we weave throughout Make Your Job a Calling is the importance of using one’s job to help others. Not only is this an essential component of what it means to have a calling, but at the same time doing this can help people grow and shape their current jobs into a calling. As a supervisor, an important question to ask yourself is, “Do my employees understand how they help others through their work?” If you supervise employees in service-oriented jobs (e.g., nurse, police officer, social worker, teacher), the answer to this question might be easy. For supervisors of employees engaged in work tasks that only indirectly help others (e.g., accountant, construction worker, business consultant), answering this question may be more of a challenge. As a supervisor, your task is to figure out how your employees can feel like their work is making a real difference, because doing so will result in employees feeling their work has value and meaning that may fit with their calling.
One way to accomplish the goal of helping employees better understand their work and its purpose is to help employees cognitively recraft the meaning of their work tasks, a process we discuss in greater detail in chapter 7 of Make Your Job a Calling. Often, employees’ tasks are making a difference in people’s lives, but they may not be conscious of how well those tasks contribute to the big-picture impact of the job. For example, a bank teller’s warmth and conscientiousness with customers might be an integral part of the bank’s overall reputation within a community, especially given that she or he likely has more contact with customers than anyone else there. This positive impact to the bank’s reputation helps the bank attract more customers which in turn builds capital to give out more loans to people wanting to buy cars or houses they need. Indirectly, people’s lives are improved by the good work of that employee. Making sure your employees can identify the real impact they are having is essential. Taking this a step further, if you really want your employees to feel what it means to help others at work, consider ways they can actually have contact with the beneficiaries of their work. Research has found that employees who both help others and are able to see to outcome of this help by interacting with their beneficiaries are the most productive and satisfied at work.
Another way to accomplish this goal is to change or add work tasks that are explicitly about helping others. Are there ways that you can slightly adapt what your employees are doing day to day so that the outcome of their work is the same (e.g., they sold a car, they filed someone’s tax return), but they have a greater sense that these tasks are helping people? One way to accomplish this is by giving your employees a small homework assignment–have them come up with one thing they can intentionally do each day to help someone, whether it be a customer or colleague. Whatever this thing is, it will likely be something they do by adapting a current task or adding another. Then have them do this for one week and report back to you on what the experience was like. If this really is not an option, and your employees tasks are set in stone, then consider adding tasks that are explicitly prosocial. These tasks might only be indirectly related to the core mission of your organization, but we are confident that the added sense of meaning that employees get from engaging in prosocial tasks will make for more deeply satisfied and engaged employees in general.
Strive to understand how your employees actually experience their work
As a supervisor, how often do you ask your employees about how they feel about what they do? Are they satisfied? Do they find it meaningful? What are the biggest challenges? Where would they like to be in five years? What do they see as the best ways of improving the work environment? If you are concerned you aren’t getting straight answers, conduct an anonymous survey. Either way, asking these types of questions serves a core purpose: establishing an open dialogue between you and your employees about their experiences with the job. This dialogue can help employees feel that someone actually cares about what they are doing and how they are feeling. In turn, information gleaned from this dialogue can help supervisors understand what is needed to help employees experience more meaning and satisfaction with their job and, in turn, view it more as a calling.
Serve as a role model
Are you living out your own calling right now in your job? If the answer to this question is yes, then ponder another question. Do your employees know that you are living out your calling? If the answer to this question is no, then we suggest you adapt your working style and become a better role model for what it means to have and live a calling. By modeling to your employees what it feels like to live out a calling—that is, by talking about how your work is a calling, and by walking that talk—you will be performing a simple act that psychologists have found can have dramatic effects on others. Stated most directly, when people are around models of positive behavior, they begin to start engaging in the positive behavior themselves. All you need to do is simply share your inner dialogue about how your work is a calling, and encourage your employees to think of their efforts in similar terms. Ideally, this level of openness will contribute to a shared positive norm among you and your employees.