How is work? How do you like your job? 

These are common everyday questions where the typical responses we hear is “it’s ok” or “it pays the bills.” Some might complain, perhaps about their boss, their customers, or the tiring nature of their work. Every once in a while, we’ll hear someone talk enthusiastically about their work. They love it, they look forward to going to work, and their work gives them a sense of purpose. 

Are We Satisfied?

Statistically, according to the 2019 Conference Board Survey, a little over 50 percent of Americans report that they are satisfied with their jobs. In 1987, when the survey was first administered, that job satisfaction number was at 61 percent. The number has dropped since then, although that number has actually been on the rise in the last few years. Nonetheless, it has been hovering around the 50 percent mark. In general, Americans are on the fence when it comes to whether they like their job or not. 

According to another study, the Pew Social Trends Research, a significant share of Americans—about 30 percent—view their jobs as “just a job to get them by.” In another study from Gallop, 70 percent of American workers lack a feeling of engagement in their work.  

For us organizational psychologists, these metrics matter because workers’ satisfaction and engagement matter. They matter on many different levels. Companies want to know how their employees are doing because their satisfaction and engagement have an impact on productivity and company bottom-lines. But more importantly, they have an impact on the person’s wellness as well as their family’s. And ultimately, they have an impact on the wellness of society. 

On a deeper and more existential level, job satisfaction has a profound impact on the person. And it’s not just a question of worker’s satisfaction with work, salary, supervisor, co-workers, company perks, or commute. It’s more about the bigger question of whether their job gives their life purpose and meaning. Our work is a big part of our identity and it matters to us that our work has meaning and that we feel connected to something bigger than us. 

Work is a Blessing 

Saint Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, said that work is part and parcel of man’s life on earth. Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercens, that “only man is capable of work, and at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth.” Even before humanity’s fall from paradise, when we were still in the Garden of Eden, we were working. God put man there to cultivate the land and to look after God’s creation (see Genesis 2:15). But we’ve fallen far away from Eden and so now, many of us see work as a curse, as a punishment. Just go eavesdrop on some of the conversations at the bar after work during happy hour. In the midst of our heavy toil and hard labor, it is easy to forget or to never even realize that work, as Saint Josemaria Escriva put it, “is man’s original vocation.” 

Discerning Our Vocation

Our vocation is not just a call to religious vocation or married vocation. Our vocation is a call to holiness, no matter what state of life we are in. And that’s because, as Saint Josemaria Escriva said, our ordinary life is a path to sanctity. Accountants, shoemakers, dentists, lawyers, bricklayers, doctors, teachers, and stay-at-home moms or dads are all called to holiness (see Lumen Gentium, Chapter V). That path is especially available to us at our work, where we spend a good portion of our vocation, at least eight hours a day, five days a week. 

Vocation comes from the Latin root word vocare, which is the same root for the word ‘voice.’ That means there is a voice calling out to us and we can hear it by praying, discerning it, and intently listening to it. There is a voice to be heard—the voice of God that is calling to us in the silence of our hearts. And just like what Mother Teresa said, “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service.” Our vocation, our calling, is to serve God even if it means tilling land, pulling teeth, changing diapers, or laying bricks. It is not always easy to see the direct link between the back-breaking labor that we do and our calling but if we make the effort to discern purpose and meaning, we might just connect the dots and realize the connection.

Consider the Parable of the Bricklayers: Three bricklayers who were doing exactly the same thing were asked what they were doing. 

  • The first bricklayer replied, “I am laying bricks.” 
  • The second bricklayer said, “I am building a church.”
  • The third bricklayer said, “I am building the house of God.” 

In this version of that old tale that is commonly used by motivational workplace and career counselors, the first bricklayer has a job, the second has a career, and the third is someone who understands his/her calling, mission, and purpose in life. That person sees the connection between the activity and the mission. 

Knowing Our Mission

In order to get a crystal picture of what our mission in life is, we start the work week with Mass. Although it’s a day of the weekend, Sunday is really the first day of the week. And appropriately so, we start the week with Mass so that we may sanctify our work. The Mass is the send-off for us to carry out God’s mission. The Latin root word for Mass comes from the same root word for mission and dismissal. We get reminded of our marching orders as the priest dismisses us, “to go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.” We are sent forth to live out the mission of Christ. Our response to the priest’s blessing is: “Thanks be to God!” We are thankful to God for calling us to our vocations and for choosing us for the mission, to be co-workers of Christ for we are now, as Saint Teresa of Avila put it, His hands and feet on earth.