Is your job just a job? Then blame the parents!

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Work – it can mean different things to different people; for some it’s a means to a paycheck while for others it’s fulfilment. And, according to new research, how an individual feels can be traced back to their parents.

A study by University of Michigan researchers into the origins of adults’ work orientations found parents’ orientations play a stronger role than any other force, such as religion, personality or profession.

"Socialisation during adolescence is the mechanism through which this persistent link is established," stated researcher Wayne Baker, professor and chair of management and organisations at Michigan University’s Ross School of Business.

Baker's co-author Kathryn Dekas, added the study suggests the way people view their work is deep-seated.

"It is influenced by the way one's parents saw their work, no matter whether parents and children share the same occupation," she said.

A work orientation represents a person's beliefs about the meaning of work. And research suggests that adults tend to favour one of three primary work orientations: job, career or calling.

The research builds on a previous study which established that people with job orientations see the work domain primarily as a means to extrinsic rewards, such as monetary compensation.

That study found job-oriented people tend to pursue their passions through non-work domains, and therefore tend to be eager to stop working or retire. Meanwhile career-oriented people derive much of their identity from working, and see work mainly as an opportunity for upward mobility, prestige, social status and achievement. Calling-oriented people primarily see work as a means to enact their passions and find personal fulfilment.

This new research adds to the findings that fathers may be the most influential role model in the development of a strong career orientation, but both parents are necessary role models for a child to develop a strong calling orientation.

It also found that participants who were close to their fathers were more likely to mimic their father's career orientation, but close relationships with mothers during adolescence discouraged a strong job orientation during adulthood.

However, certain outside influences can diminish the parents' influence on work orientations, Baker said.

"If you are working in a distressed industry, that tends to swamp the effects of parental influence," Baker said. "I think it's hard to think about the higher purpose of your work if you are fearful of losing your job."
 

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