Views differ on whether individuals with a calling orientation toward work (i.e., seeing work as personally fulfilling and contributing to a better world) enjoy more favorable objective career outcomes, such as higher income and chance of promotion, versus those with a job orientation (i.e., seeing work as a means to a financial end). We suggest that the impasse is partially due to prior research’s exclusive focus on how work orientation affects one’s effort and subsequent job performance. Drawing on theories of signaling, cognitive biases, and reciprocity, we propose that calling-oriented employees enjoy better objective career outcomes than job-oriented employees via an external pathway: managers misperceive employees’ calling orientation as evidence of better performance and stronger organizational commitment. In Study 1—analyses of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study—we find support for the main effect, and in Study 2—an online experiment—we constructively replicate this effect and find evidence for our predicted explanatory mechanisms. Furthermore, observing a calling-oriented employee prompts managers to perceive them more favorably in other domains, creating a halo effect. Our research sheds light on how individuals’ subjective view of the meaning of work influences their objective career success, highlighting workplace signals and managerial perceptions as important mechanisms.
“I have always been admiring the high impact level of research conducted by HKU Business School. The colleagues here are also very friendly. Soon after I have come to Hong Kong, the MBA director Dr. Cheng had even helped me with apartment hunting!”
Formerly a senior consultant at Oliver Wyman, Dr. Cho later realised that her true passion lies in knowledge creation. After finishing her PhD studies in Yale, our young Korean scholar officially joined us in June 2021 as an Assistant Professor in Management and Strategy.