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Butter or Margarine? Career Orientation


Leadership is less about what we know and more about what we’re willing to discover.’ Diane Branson

I recently attended a retirement ‘do’ in my office for Dave who was the receptionist/administrator.

Dave has a very happy disposition and would greet everyone respectfully and with a smile. He would often go out of his way to solve issues and would help you out if you had a query. Nothing was ever a problem for Dave.

When I arrived at the do, Dave was busy sticking labels onto small dishes, labelling them ‘butter’ and ‘margarine,’ even stating the brand of butter!   He said to me, ‘Laura, I am just putting these labels on the dishes so that everyone has a choice as some people like butter and some like margarine.’ Wow, I thought to myself, even on his last day Dave is still thinking of others and making sure that there is attention to detail on his buffet table!

Dave has a real ‘calling’ in his day-to-day work. The ‘calling’ was identified by researched carried out by Amy Wrzesniewski, from the Yale School of Management. I first read of Amy’s fascinating work in 2007, via the Professional Manager Journal. (If you would like a copy of the article, please email me, the article was linked to positive psychology in the work place.)

In brief, Amy states that within any profession there are three categories when it comes to career orientation.

Job: These individuals not really enjoying their work who just work to receive their pay

Career: These individuals like certain aspects of their job and view their current position as a stepping stone into another career.

Calling: These individuals are committed and dedicated to their work and believe that their work makes a difference to the world.

Interestingly, regardless of your profession you can fall into any category and the article cites a hospital janitor who took it upon himself to move all the paintings from one side of a chronic care ward to the other for the benefit of the patients. Therefore, this janitor had a calling orientation. Regardless of their qualification, experience and/or status I have seen a mixture of practitioners who are Job, Career and Calling orientated.

I recently attended a seminar which was organised by the Day Care Trust on ‘Improving Quality in Early Years Education and Care: A comparison of perspectives and measures.’ I was catching up with a colleague and drinking my tea (half of which was in the saucer) when a member of the catering team, without prompting, exchanged the saucer for a clean one. I thought to myself, this person has the ‘calling’. This again demonstrates how the calling individual has that real sense of caring for others and attention to detail.

Those of you who have attended my Leadership training, will know that I always speak passionately about Amy’s work!  Managers will often smile to themselves when I describe the three categories and I say. ‘Are you smiling, because you can think of staff who do fall into these categories?’  ‘Yes’ they respond!’

I believe that it is helpful for leaders to understand these categories in order to work with and support staff in their day-to-day work and, more importantly, provide appropriate continuous professional and personal development that will enhance staff positively.

I asked Dave what he will do in his retirement. He said, “Well, Laura I will be helping to look after my granddaughter and my other daughter who is a teacher. I will be going into her school twice a week to help the children with their reading,” So, the ‘calling’ continues!

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  • Catherine Rushforth

    Laura, what a great blog piece.
    I am just in the process of the final edit of my book and realised, after reading your piece, that I meet many, many Practitioners and Managers who ‘bring their heart to their work, or an old-fashioned term ‘have a vocational calling’ to it. Of course there is nothing at all wrong with Practitioners or Managers who are in child care as a job or career, as long as they genuinely like children and working with their parents ! The question is can you put your hand on your heart and say, “I love my job !”
    Catherine Rushforth (Independent Trainer, Consultant and soon to be Author)

    • laurachildcare

      Thanks, Catherine. Indeed, We still have a lot of work to do within the early years sector. Your book sounds very interesting, please let me know when it is available to buy and the title?

  • Manjusree Mitra

    Butter or Margarine? Career Orientation. Very nice reading. I just open the mail and read it very
    quickly. I liked very much as this is very simple but strong. I am thinking where I am in which cetagory? very interesting. Will continue reading your write ups.

  • Shelagh Willis

    Great article Laura, in our line of work we need lots of the ‘calling’ types of staff. From a personal perspective I do what I do because of a ‘calling’, if I ever stop feeling like a ‘calling’ person then it will be time for a career change.

  • Debra Davey

    Working from home today and got so carried away reading this I have forgotton to start work…….(I wonder what category that puts me in!) Great article Laura. If Catherine could post the details of her book I could recommend it to my students. They think I have shares in Amazon!

  • Julie Wassom

    Yet another good article, Laura! In my work training and consulting with managers to help them market their schools and convert inquiries to enrollment, I find so many who are passionate about the quality they deliver, yet challenged with helping their entire team get to the point of a “calling” versus job or even career. Thanks for putting this topic on the table.

  • Amy Wrzesniewski

    Thanks for highlighting such an interesting and important topic for employees and organizations. I’m heartened each time I read of examples like this.

  • Idda Olagbaiye

    Wonderful article Laura. As a manager over several years now, I am a little saddened to say that I see more and more “job” and “career” orientated practitioners rushing into childcare industry in certain parts of the country, compared to the real “calling” gems. We definitely need more “calling” leaders and practitioners if we are to continue preparing children’s transitions meticulously, to the already large reception classrooms, where our colleagues (teachers) are doing their best to cope with their enormous challenges. Thanks for the blog.

    • laurachildcare

      My pleasure to share Idda.

      • Diana Blaj

        Thanks a lot Laura for bringing this topic on the table. Unfortunately , most of my staff are doing their JOB, counting the
        days left till pay day:) that s why I think I m so tired at the end of each day, but never mind, I love my work, the children are my everyday joy and the reason to be happy. Looking forward for new topics! Thank you!

        • laurachildcare

          Thanks for your honest comments, Diana. During my Leadership training, I focus on the ‘culture’ and how managers can enhance their staff teams to be more effective in the workplace.

  • Penny Webb

    Interesting blog Laura – I think I fall into the ‘calling’ group! Recently I was provided with an opportunity to be involved in setting up a support network – no finacial outlay needed – just my knowledge – and in return I was promised a % share of the business – I turned down the offer. I am not interested in supporting others to make a ;fortune’ – yes of course I need to make a living and I run a successful childminding business and I get paid to tutor courses – but I feel that we all should do something extra – and for free when we can.

    At the same time my long term volunteering role and membership with NCMA has come to an end – and what do I do? Yes look for another organisation to volunteer for!

    My job (childminding), my hobby (volunteering), my interests – are often intertwined – and the reason – my passion for what I do – my need to do the best I can – and like Dave bothering to label the butter and the marg, and the chap moving the pictures – the need to do that little bit more over and above the ‘job’ description.

  • sally King

    Wow, I had never really thought about it like that. I always felt that being in childcare was my ‘career’, but on reflection it most certainly is and has been my calling for as long as I can remember. This term had always felt a little cold to me, however. The word calling really does sum it up for me.
    I can see every member of staff in the categories you described. We just need to work on converting a few to at least the career path choice. Luckily enough I have a deputy who sees her role as a calling too.

  • Catherine Lyon

    Great communication.

    In the nurseries, I continually look for ‘calling’ ….. it becomes part of the interview process really, but not always able to recruit. I think there is a ‘mindset’ here as not very easy to convert – lots of energy goes into trying to move people on/to keep up, 🙂

    I often think it is best to recruit on ‘character’ (calling fits here) as skills can be rectified. Where there’s a will there’s a way! Employees with ‘calling’ also ‘buy into’ what your organisation wants to achieve.

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