How your parents determine the way you feel about your job

According to a study out of the University of Michigan.

Children who have close bonds with their parents are likely to inherit their “work orientation’’ as well, according to a study out of the University of Michigan. iStock

Much is made of the way the supposedly new way the millennial generation is approaching work – prioritizing fulfillment over stability and so on.

But a new study out of the University of Michigan complicates that idea by suggesting people – millennials included – pretty much approach their jobs the way their parents taught them to.

So if you consider your job a personal “calling’’ – something you’d do even if you weren’t getting paid for it – chances are one of your parents feels the same way about his or her job, according to the study.

Wayne Baker, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Kathryn Dekas, a people analytics manager at Google and Baker’s former PhD student, analyzed the link between the meaning of work for parents and children, and found that parents are the most significant factor in determining your work orientation – over factors like personality, profession, and religion.

So if you have a strong bond with your mother and she comes home complaining about work every day, you might also see your job as just a means to get paid. But if you have a mother who loves working at a nonprofit, you’ll likely be influenced to find meaning in your job.

Researchers described work orientation as “a person’s beliefs about the meaning of work,’’ and break it down into three distinct categories: job, career, or calling.

As Fast Company describes it, job-oriented individuals are “your classic nine-to-fivers’’ trying to earn a paycheck and getting their main fulfillment through non-work pursuits, while career-oriented people are focused on advancing their job and finding success – even if it’s at the detriment of co-workers. Calling-oriented people gain personal fulfillment through their jobs and would probably pursue their work even if they weren’t paid for it. Calling-oriented types are usually the most satisfied employees, since they’re passionate about their job and enjoy going to work.


Work orientation is often overpowered by whichever parent you’re closer to, but if you’re pretty close to both of your parents, chances are you’ll inherit a little bit of both of their work orientations.

However, the researchers also found that fathers tend to be the most influential when passing along an orientation to view work as a means to career advancement and power.

Dekas said she and Baker undertook the research to better understand why people feel the way they do about their jobs, and were surprised to find how “deep-seated,’’ parental influence was, even if you don’t share the same occupation as your parents. Baker, for example, said his career as an academic was influenced by how his father balanced a white-collar job with his passion for teaching at the local church.

However, there are some circumstances that can dislodge a person’s likelihood for having a certain work orientation, they said. If you work in a very distressed industry, for example, Dekas and Baker said the daily stress you feel could prevent you from seeing your work as a calling.

Another key takeaway from the study was that one orientation isn’t “better’’ than the rest. “Each has its benefits!’’ Dekas told Fast Company. Though calling-oriented people may be the most satisfied, that doesn’t mean they’re the most desirable workers for employers, Dekas stressed. Some companies want workers to treat their jobs simply as 9-to-5 occupations where employees are efficient, yet detached.


It’s worth noting that your work orientation doesn’t have to stay fixed, Dekas added. If you find a new career path, or reframe your way of thinking about your job, you have the power to find fulfillment at work, or even get ahead.

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