In Pursuit of Joy at Work in Customer Service

5 min read
Nov 13, 2014
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Joy at work in customer service

Customer service work is a kind of activity that you wouldn't probably pick as a source of joy. As in any other job you eventually become overwhelmed, bored, unsatisfied with your paycheck or you hit a ceiling in your career. Under those circumstances, the state of joy seems like Neverland – never to be achieved.

But what if the joy comes not from the particular work that you do, but from the way you see your work? If so, is there any reason to wander about in search of a dream occupation or higher income?

Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, an organizational psychologist and professor of business at New York University, and her colleagues, conducted a study which shows that satisfaction with life and with work may be more dependent on how an employee sees his or her work than on income or occupational prestige. So it's neither in the kind of job you do, nor in the rewards you get, but in the way you think about what you do where you will find joy.

Job, career, calling

Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues discovered that workers, no matter the occupation, are generally divided into three groups, each with different approach toward work.

The first group sees their work as a job. People with this approach work to receive pay in order to support their life. For them, work itself may not be interesting, pleasurable or fulfilling. They focus on wages. So if there is a cutback in pay or higher paying job opens up, they are ready to leave the job and move on.

The second group views work as a career. These individuals do the work basically to get promoted. Their main interest is in prestige and social status, that comes with job titles. They focus on climbing the ladder. So when they hit the ceiling, they get dissatisfied and may seek new work.

The third group sees their work as a calling. Those people work for the sake of the work itself. They find their job to be an integral part of their lives and identity. These individuals tend to love their work, see it as a form of self-expression and personal fulfillment. If they could afford to, they would continue doing the work even if they didn't get paid.

The researchers noticed that those who view their work as a calling are more likely to be satisfied with their work and with overall life as well, than those who view work as a job or a career.

If you see your work as a calling, your mind will ease up. There will be no struggle inside you as you know you're in the right place. The challenges you face each day appear natural and you don't have to daydream about the "perfect" job instead.

With the "calling" approach, you express yourself through the work that you do. You don't get bored so much and feel greater sense of purpose. And you can keep your interest and enthusiasm even if you don't get pay rise or a promotion.

Turning job into a calling

At this point you may say that the "calling" view would fit more for a doctor, an artist or a priest than a customer service representative. But it's not the case. Wrzesniewski's research showed that job, career, calling orientation occurs in all kinds of jobs, even in the menial ones. So no matter what kind of job you are in right now, the calling approach is an option for you.

One of the most inspiring stories I've heard about changing routine work into a calling comes from a book "The art of happiness at work” written by Howard C. Cutler.

Howard as a teenager used to work in a concentrated-orange-juice canning factory. It was a menial job that would make you bored after a few minutes. Howard doubted that he would survive in this job in the long run. However, that was until he met Carl.

Carl was his co-worker, an older man full of enthusiasm and energy. “I couldn't help but marvel at the way he worked. He seemed to relish the physical movement, deftly removing the boxes with a rhythm and economy of motion that was a genuine pleasure to watch – like seeing a professional athlete engaged in a workout,” recalls Howard.

Carl was a man who seemed to have a natural sense of a wider purpose of his job. He knew how many cans of orange juice the factory produced and to which countries the juice was shipped. He took pleasure in thinking about where the juice was going and, as Howard describes:

“he would roar out farcical warnings, like ‘Careful with that box there boy, the o.j. in that box is goin' directly to Her Majesty's royal yacht, to be mixed with vodka and served up in highball glasses to bored diplomats,’ or, ‘Now, don't drop that. 'cause this orange juice is headed straight for Nebraska, where it's gonna be sucked out of a plastic bottle by a towheaded colicky little one-year-old.’"

Carl was able to see menial, boring, low-paid job as a calling. He found a purpose in the things he was doing and took pleasure in every move he made. The approach he took made him genuinely happy despite the circumstances.

No matter what kind of job you have right now, you can investigate by yourself how your attitude affects enjoyment and satisfaction at work. Look for the calling approach, and when you find it cultivate it day by day for your own good.

You may also want to read "How Not to Hate Your Job (and How to Learn from It)".

Photo courtesy of Prabowo Restuaji
via Creative Commons.

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