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Vincent Ogutu: On the Origins of Callings at Work

  Oct 2, 2015

According to Viktor Frankl, what people desire most is to find a meaning in their lives. You could call this the “Why” question. Some find it in their families, others in their work and others in leisure. As for Dr. Vincent Ogutu, what gives him fulfillment is creating meaningful work environments.

Dr. Ogutu, the founding MBA Director at Strathmore Business School is a holder of a Ph.D in Organizational Management from Rutgers University. He also holds an MSc in Financial Economics from the University of London and a BA in Economics from the University of Nairobi. He recently defended his dissertation: Origins, Malleability and Outcomes of Calling Orientation: A Study of Social Entrepreneurs, under the supervision of Prof. Chao Chen, Prof. Jeffrey Robinson, Prof. Danielle Warren, (Rutgers University) and Prof. Amy Wrzesniewski(External Advisor- Yale University).

Here is Dr. Vincent Ogutu in his own words:

The reason behind meaningful work

My area of specialization is Organizational Behavior, a discipline which tries to understand people in their work environment using Psychology. I have been studying motivation, and I find that the most powerful type of motivation out there is when we encounter meaning in our lives.

There are three meanings people generally derive from their work: There are those who see their work as just a job; they have to do it to survive and they do it for the money. There are, those who see it as a career; where they do it for status. Lastly, there are those who see it as a calling; they love what they do and they want to change the world through their work.

The research that has been done so far in my field has focused mostly on the outcomes of these three work orientations – how you are likely to behave and feel if you have one of those orientations. There is hardly any research being done to explain how you acquire these three work orientations in the first place. I decided to take up this challenge, focusing on callings, deeply meaningful work, with a special attention to the sources, origins and evolution of callings.

I chose to study social entrepreneurs, since these are people who dedicate themselves to solving problems in their communities, and so I expected them to see their work as a calling. I wanted to study this particular group of people, so that I could determine if their drive was inborn, or acquired. I also wanted to know what difference it made if entrepreneurs saw their work as a calling or not; in other words I wanted to know the outcomes of callings on entrepreneurs themselves, on their employees and on their organisations. I set out to do all this using mixed methods – so I started with a qualitative study where I interviewed 32 entrepreneurs, and I ended with a quantitative study where I conducted a survey of over 500 entrepreneurs. This second study also included a survey of their employees.


From the qualitative study, the first thing I discovered using grounded theory methods was an interplay between having a sense of life calling and seeing your work as a calling. If there is harmony between one’s life calling and one’s work, then there is fulfillment, whereas, if there is a disconnect between the two, one experiences frustration. So if you know what your calling in life is, and cannot seem to live it out at your place of work, you will feel frustrated. If on the other hand the work conditions are right for you to live out your life calling, then you will see your work itself as a calling.

Not everyone who sees their life as a calling sees their work as a calling, but pretty much, any person who sees his or her work as a calling sees their life as a calling.

I also found three trajectories to a life calling, which I labeled as:Always, Gradual and Sudden.

  • Always: People who for as long as they could remember always saw their life as a calling and wanted to make the world a better place;
  • Gradual: People who after experimenting with various jobs gradually discovered what truly was their calling; and lastly
  • Sudden: Those who had a sudden discovery of their calling- an epiphany moment where their entire world view changed in a single day.

In my quantitative study, I tested for outcomes of callings using both multiple regression and structural equation modelling. I found that entrepreneurs who saw their work as a calling were more passionate and more engaged in their work. They were also more likely to communicate their vision and get buy-in from their employees. I found that employees were more likely to see their work as a calling, and had lower intentions to quit their job if their entrepreneur-employer had a calling. I also found that if the entrepreneur had a calling orientation to work, their venture tended to have a higher social impact growth.

The last thing I tested was the difference between commercial entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. I found a greater likelihood to have a calling in social entrepreneurs compared to commercial entrepreneurs. Also social entrepreneurs were more likely to communicate their vision to their employees, and to get higher social impact growth than commercial entrepreneurs.

So in my quest to understand callings among social entrepreneurs; I mapped their three trajectories to a calling (always, gradual and sudden); I explained the interplay between having a life calling and finding the right conditions to live it out as a work calling; I tested several outcomes of callings in entrepreneurs, their employees and their ventures; and lastly, I showed how callings play a greater role among social entrepreneurs compared to commercial entrepreneurs.

Can the results be replicated in various sectors?

Although I studied entrepreneurs specifically, I believe some of the results could hold true for other professions. There have been studies on outcomes of calling orientations in many sectors, for instance: among healthcare practitioners, zoo keepers, and educators.Although certain careers lend themselves moreto calling orientations, such as say missionary work, most professions would probably show an even split between job, career and calling orientations.

Application of the research

This research underscores the importance of helping people find harmony between their life goals and their work. Incubators and accelerators could help entrepreneurs in training to reconcile their life calling and their work goals. Although I only studied entrepreneurs, work orientation research in general is useful in endeavors of keeping your employees motivatedin line with their various work orientations. Employers should discover what their employees want at their place of work since people perceive their work differently. Thus, employees who perceive their work as a job: would probably want monetary rewards. Those for whom their work is acareerwould be motivated by promotions, visibility and recognition. Lastly, for those who see their work as a calling, tasks assigned to them should be framed as meaningful endeavors, that make a positive difference in people’s lives. Employers should try to create a favorable work environment, where employees can discoverand live out their calling.

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