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A new study examining how 'callings' relate to workplace performance suggests that people who feel called to their job tend to be better workers than those who are not, and, critically, will dedicate themselves to help their organization reach its goals.


The Globe’s bimonthly report on research from business schools.

Businesses looking to boost their performance this year may want to take a closer look at the people they are hiring and what motivates workers to do their jobs.

A new study examining how “callings” relate to workplace performance suggests that people who feel called to their job tend to be better workers than those who are not, and, critically, will dedicate themselves to help their organization reach its goals.

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“Individuals who perceive they have a calling have a personal connection to the job. They feel that the job is their station in life and, as a consequence, are devoted to the work,” says study co-author Patricia Faison Hewlin of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal.

The study defines a calling as a role in the work force that a worker feels destined to fill. It builds on a well-studied area of research that suggests modern workers are increasingly turning to work to find meaningfulness in their lives, rather than just a paycheque.

In this study, Dr. Hewlin worked with researchers to broaden the discussion to examine how callings affect organizational outcomes, such as job performance.

It comes down to the relationship between calling-oriented workers and the company for which they work, the associate professor of organizational behaviour says in an e-mail.

Both parties receive a benefit from being in the right relationship. For example, when employees are treated well by their organizations, they reciprocate through loyalty and work performance. In the context of this research, a callings-driven employee will give back through emotionally attaching to the organization, and adopting its goals as his or her own.

It’s that attachment that, ultimately, binds callings to high-quality work performance.

“People value their ability to exemplify a calling in their daily work activities and they are likely to view their organizations as instrumental in achieving the valued goals associated with their callings,” Dr. Hewlin says.

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That’s true whether you’re employed at a church or not-for-profit organization or as a banker, engineer or health-care professional, according to the research, which measured performance through surveys of workers and their supervisors across various industries.

The study’s findings highlight important lessons for employers. Namely, it’s important for organizations to state clearly their values so that individuals with a calling to the job will be able to readily identify the degree to which the organization’s values are in line with their own.

Asking the right questions will help organizations recognize someone who has a calling for the job.

“Questions such as how the role connects to the applicants' value system, or the degree to which the job or organization relates to them on a personal level, can help uncover the degree to which someone has a calling for the job,” Dr. Hewlin says.

It’s equally important for workers who feel called to a job to find a company that meets their ideological expectations and allows for acting consistently with those values – otherwise, their work performance may suffer.

Individuals with a calling who are already working with organizations that fall short of their ideological promises aren’t without hope, though, Dr. Hewlin says. If that’s the case, she recommends workers strive to make an impact on their organization to make it a better fit with their callings.

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The study, by lead author and McGill alumni Sung Soo Kim of the University of Denver, is published in Human Relations and was named by the journal’s editorial team among the top papers of 2018. Along with Dr. Hewlin, co-authors include Heather Vough of the University of Cincinnati, Donghoon Shin of the University of Wisconsin, and Christian Vandenberghe of HEC Montréal.

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