The antecedent of perceiving a calling: a social influence perspective

Student thesis: PhD Thesis


The advances in technology science and changes in market environments have resulted in the emergence of various careers and jobs. Although people now have more career and job choices, many of them change their careers frequently, lack passion for their work and fail to understand the meaning of their work, thereby reducing their work efficiency and productivity. The lack of a sense of calling at work may be one of the main reasons for these undesirable behaviours and feelings. In the literature, calling refers to a conviction, often felt as a sense of destiny or fit, in which a particular domain of work leverages one’s particular gifts and consuming passions in service of a cause or purpose beyond his/her own interests (Thompson & Bunderson, 2019). Perceiving work as a calling has been widely proven to enhance job satisfaction, job performance, professional success and other important personal and organisational outcomes. Given the importance of calling to individuals and organisations, exploring which factors can help individuals discern and develop their calling at work is both critical and valuable.

Previous studies find that individual-related personality traits, capacities, values and religious beliefs can influence the discernment of one’s calling. This stream of literature mainly views the innate, stable and intrinsic intra-personal factors as the main determinants of calling. However, recent research shows that the above view may be one-sided and incomplete. Specifically, the social environment, especially the important surrounding people or social actors, plays an important role in shaping individuals’ attitudes, perceptions and behaviours. Through interaction, communication and exchange with their surrounding environment, people construct their attitudes and perceptions about their careers and work accordingly. In addition to intra-individual factors, external environmental factors, such as interpersonal influence, may also have a significant effect on the discerning and developing processes of one’s calling. However, these factors have rarely been examined both theoretically and empirically. Accordingly, this thesis proposes three key research questions to extend knowledge on antecedents of calling: (1) What are the general factors that drive people to perceive their work as a calling? (2) What are the specific interpersonal factors that shape people’s callingperceptions at work? (3) What are the empirical relationships and mediated mechanisms between interpersonal factors and perceiving a calling? Answering these questions is important because the current literature exploring the social or interpersonal antecedents of calling is relatively limited. Therefore, a clearer and deeper understanding of if and how calling can be discerned through interpersonal rather than intra-personal influence is critical.

To address the above research questions, this work adopted a novel social influence perspective and conducted three studies that combined qualitative and quantitative research methods (two qualitative studies and one quantitative study). The first study (N = 23) aimed to explore those general factors that are commonly thought to influence one’s perceptions of calling through an open-ended in-depth interview method. Study 1 ultimately identified seven antecedents of calling, including proactive personality, past significant experience, family influence, empowering leadership, informal mentorship, feedback and person–job fit. The results of Study 1 also confirmed that there are indeed significant persons who can affect one’s calling. Through semi-structured in-depth interviews, Study 2 (N = 26) was performed built on the results of Study 1 to further clarify the specific interpersonal factors that significantly influence one’s calling. Study 2 identified four interpersonal factors that contribute to the discernment of one’s calling, namely, empowering leadership, family influence, career encouragement from friends and informal mentorship. Using the findings from these two qualitative studies, Study 3 (N = 266) was performed to empirically examine the main effects of the four interpersonal factors and their functional mechanisms by adopting a specific social information processing theory and collecting survey data at multiple time points. The results demonstrated that family influence and informal mentorship have a direct, significant positive effect on perceiving a calling and that reflective career competencies and experienced responsibility for work outcomes are the two underlying mechanisms that mediate the positive indirect effects of empowering leadership, family influence and informal mentorship on perceiving a calling.

Through these three studies, this research offers the following important theoretical contributions. First, this thesis focuses on the interpersonal factors that affect one’s calling, thereby complementing previous studies that have mainly focused on the intrinsic aspects of individuals and providing a more complete and balanced understanding of the antecedents of calling. Second, this thesis introduces a social influence perspective, clarifies the significant persons or social factors that affect calling and reveals the specific influence of these social actors on calling. Third, this thesis empirically tests the impact of interpersonal factors on calling and the underlying functional mechanisms of such social influence. By providing convincing empirical results, this article enhances our understanding of how a sense of calling is discerned or formed through the process of social and interpersonal influence. Lastly, traditional work as a calling theory focuses only on the consequences of perceiving a calling. This thesis extends this theory by systematically exploring the general and social factors that drive people to perceive their work as a calling.

Date of Award1 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Nottingham
SupervisorJoon Hyung Park (Supervisor), Jie Wang (Supervisor) & Aditya Jain (Supervisor)


  • perceiving a calling
  • social influence
  • career development
  • social information processing theory
  • mixed methodology

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