photo of Matthew J. Stollak, Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Matthew J. Stollak, Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

I attended my first professional baseball game in July of 1975. The Boston Red Sox traveled to the dearly departed Milwaukee County Stadium to face the Brewers. Hank Aaron was in the final years of his Hall of Fame career while Jim Rice and Robin Yount were beginning theirs. My senses were overwhelmed: the sight of freshly cut green grass, the excitement of the fans, the smoke rising from the grills of a thousand tailgaters, and the music blaring from the speakers prodding the crowd to cheer. Right then, like any other eight-year boy across America, I knew exactly what I wanted to be…

The organist for the Milwaukee Brewers.

It seemed like the perfect job: you attended games for free, everyone seemed excited when you performed, and to my limited understanding of employee benefits, you received free hot dogs.

As I grew older, and my desire to practice plummeted, I looked elsewhere for career satisfaction. One of the essential terms of my workplace is vocation. As Frederick Buechner described, vocation is “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

What is HR’s vocation? Are we corporate lackeys just enforcing its restrictive and punitive rules? Are we creating a workplace where workers can share ideas and feel welcoming? Does the latter even matter? Is HR’s calling helping others find theirs while still meeting the company’s interest?

The understanding of vocation is a particular concern as the latest generation enters the workplace. Trends show an increasing number of Americans working in temporary positions, and ending up with multiple careers during one lifetime. It is also increasingly diverse. People are living longer enabling many to pursue second or third careers. Individuals are also entering the workforce at an increasingly older age; people are taking the time to choose a career. As a result, workers need to find out how to find their calling.

My colleague Paul Waddell speaks to the importance of ethical considerations when mentoring for vocation. Here are four ways those considerations can be applied to HR so that they can be masters of vocation:

  1. Practice prudence. Thomas Aquinas talks of prudence as the capacity to make good judgments about how to behave. When employees share their story with HR or ask HR for guidance and advice, prudence should help us determine how we should respond. We may have good intentions, but unless we see a situation clearly, good results cannot follow. Given the investment organizations have in their workforce, and retention more crucial than ever, helping employees clearly understand their career path is critical.
  2. Honor humility. Humility is particularly challenging for HR as it requires an honest appreciation of ourselves that allows being something beyond a competitor and instead be a friend. Whose interests does HR serve? The company, its employees, or ideally, both? But often they conflict. Employees are looking to HR to be authentic, and authenticity lies at the heart of humility. In this instance, HR can serve the employee by helping him or her understand where they stand in the organization and identifying if the calling is right.
  3. Demonstrate detachment. Like humility, detachment means one can set aside ego and ambition to concentrate on the well-being of others. It allows an employee to find out who he or she is called to be, instead of necessarily what the organization wishes him or her to become.
  4. Engage with empathy. Empathy requires us to see things from the perspective of someone else, particularly someone who may be significantly different from us. Can HR walk in their shoes? To this end, we try to best enter into their experience and discover why the employee has that passion.

HR is in a unique position to help employees discover and follow their vocation. Employees come to us from various places and different stages in their lives. By assisting them to become their best selves, prosperity will soon follow for the organization.