The Three Approaches to Work

I stumbled upon an article recently from the Mayo Clinic. You can imagine my surprise when I learned this was not a study on sandwich spreads, nor that there is a clinic devoted to this high-calorie condiment. But that is OK because the study was interesting in another area I am also passionate about – job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction, which is what the article was about). The gist of the article, to me at least, was that there are three different approaches to work:

  1. It’s a job. In this case, you work for the financial rewards and benefits.
  2. It’s a career. Here you are looking for advancement. You don’t see yourself doing the same thing for an extended period; you want to advance your career.
  3. It’s a calling. The work itself is where you get your jollies.

To be crystal clear here – one is not better than the other. You read that right. Jim Perkins, HR Extraordinaire, said that if you see your work as a job, that is OK. If you do it for the money, honey, that is fine so long as you aren’t fooling yourself into thinking anything else. If you have a job that pays the bills and gives you a little extra pocket change to do what you are truly passionate about, that is completely fine. You are the guy who walks past the other two folks at 5 o’clock on the money every day. There are 24 hours in the day, you have committed your 8 to the company, and the rest is yours. If you are the career climber, you are the one looking up as Mr. 5 o’clock books it out to beat traffic. You may stay later, but it is so that you can get ahead of the curve and be ready for the next opportunity which may come along. You have a well-articulated answer to that old interview question I hate: “where do you see yourself in 5 years.” This isn’t to say you are allergic to money, but at the same time, you may see the journey more as an investment. Get the experience, get the promotion, and the money will come. Lastly are the folks who see it as a calling. They see their job as an intertwined part of their lives. These people do what they do because they love what they do, which influences the time and effort they put into their work.

We need to take a step back, evaluate our relationship with work, and be honest with ourselves. If you see it as a job, that doesn’t mean you are a slacker. I have known, and do know, a lot of people who fit in this category, but they are tirelessly focused on the work at hand when they are at work. I picture these people looking at themselves in the mirror and feeling good about the work they do every day. At the same time, we have all known some career-minded people who had no problem getting ahead by stepping on the necks of their co-workers. And just because you are passionate about your work doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at it.

Just as we, as employees, need to come to terms with our relationships with work, I believe we, as employers, need to recognize that not every position requires someone to be passionate about their work. I’m not saying that isn’t noble, but consider the work and its career options. If this is an entry-level position and the career ladder is more of a two-rung step stool than an actual ladder – hiring for passion or ambition will lead to burnout.

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