Monday, 20 October 2014

What happened to vocation?

One meaning of vocation is an urge to a particular calling or career.

Another meaning of vocation is a specified profession or trade.

It’s rather unscientific, but lately I have been keeping a rough count some days of how many times tweets and blogs cover issues, terms and concepts such as employee engagement, talent, succession, potential, wellbeing, motivation, morale etc. oh and err, vocation.

They have appeared on my Twitter feed in something like the order presented above, with the tally for employee engagement towering above them all. This is despite following a lot of public service professionals and organisations in addition to the HR, OD and L&D community and media.

I have worked with public service professionals for my whole career. I have lost count of how many times I have been blown away by their dedication – a direct product of their strong sense of vocation. So often this has sustained them through very challenging times and major change. After all they, no we (as I count myself in here) are there to provide the services their professional training has equipped and prepared them for. And the sense of professional and job satisfaction gained is incalculable.

Remember books like this? 

Remember ‘careers’ at school, at college? Remember feeling passionate about your chosen career? Remember standard questions from aunts or uncles or other infrequently seen family grown up friends such as ‘What subjects do you like school’? Or ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

Did any of us say:
I want to be responsible for a highly specified component part of the process involved in educating young people?’
 ‘I want to write reports recommending specified interventions and courses of action but I have no interest in carrying them out or seeing if they work?’
‘Oh and by the way, I want to do this for a generic employer who currently has the contract for that service and is using a sophisticated employee engagement strategy to motivate its staff.’
(Just thinking about and writing the paragraph above demoralises me and I can’t imagine any of these being related to the word ‘urge’.)

When did things start to get more generic? How much has standardisation and extreme process mapping reduced vocational roles down into components?

At the same time, there is a massive support for the benefits of employee engagement and the impact on the bottom line is increasingly evidenced. I have found it interesting and useful to read about and ponder on the locus of engagement. For example, is the sense of engagement felt about the company, the team, the job content, the role or the profession? I think that for the last two (and in Utopia all of these) having a vocation in line with an urge to a calling or career is essential. Yet I fear that the meaning usually attached to vocation these days is simply a specified profession or trade. We still at least routinely use the term to describe national work based qualifications (NVQs or VQs) yet I think this is based on the second meaning.

I would like to see more debate and discussion on vocation as an urge to a calling or a career. Also a renewal of the appreciation and benefits of the relationship between having a strong vocation and feeling engaged with your profession and your role. Ideally these in combination with your job content, your team, and your company. If that does not achieve most of what most employee engagement strategies set out to do, then it is hard to imagine what will.

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