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Work as a Calling: Existential Dimensions of Individuals’ Work Orientations

Chapter in book
Authors Mattias Bengtsson
Marita Flisbäck
Published in Work Orientations: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Findings
Pages 75-101
ISBN 9781351121149
Publisher Routledge
Place of publication Abingdon, Oxfordshire
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Pages 75-101
Language en
Keywords Existential work orientation, work as a calling, retirement process, Sweden
Subject categories Sociology


The aim of this chapter is to deepen the understanding of existential meaning dimensions of work activities, and the calling is highlighted as an example of existential work orientation. The data was collected in 2014 and 2015 and consist of qualitative interviews both before and after retirement with Swedish employees reflecting a qualitative spectrum of occupations. A group of respondents showed such great dedication to work, and that work aligned with a broader sense of purpose, that their work orientations were defined as a calling. In the empirical analyses, five main components of a calling is outlined: 1) work appears as an external summons; 2) the purpose of the work activity is to serve a higher cause; 3) work is carried out with personality as a tool; 4) work involves self-sacrifice, 5) and work gives rise to elevation. Moreover, the chapter shows that the retirement process acts as a so-called existential imperative that can make visible and enforce meaning dimensions in relation to work. Thus, it is argued that the retirement process is a critical empirical case for making visible work as a calling. Finally, the chapter discusses how retirement as an external force “de-calling” the life task could act both as freedom and curse for individuals having experienced pros and cons of work as a calling.

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