What’s your Ideological Discount?

I had a chance to hear Stuart Bunderson, Professor at Washington University’s Olin School of Business, speak about building organizations which employees feel deeply connected with and committed to.  The basis for his presentation was the extensive research he did on Zookeepers…yes, your eyes do not deceive you…Zookeepers*.  It turns out that Zookeepers have a deep sense of “calling” about their work; as Prof. Bunderson suggests, employees with “a calling” turn out to be really committed to their jobs.  Most people wouldn’t need an MBA from Olin to figure that out, but his research and his presentation were fascinating none-the-less.  And it left me thinking about the interdependence of 1) economic currency (money), 2) socio-emotional currency (people), and 3) ideological currency (purpose) on the overall value proposition of an employee/employer relationship.  I understand how each of these variables plays some role in employee engagement.  But how those variables are weighted in the overall equation is what interests me?  Could you, for instance, pay me enough to care less about the organization’s purpose (or my calling)?  I’m really sorry to say that the answer to that is a resounding ”yes!”  In this case, my ideological currency is highly negotiable.  On the other hand, you can not pay me enough to work with a bunch of assholes.  Assholes are kind of where I draw the line.  And in this case, my socio-emotional currency is non-negotiable.  Now here’s where it gets harder for me.  How high does the ideological currency need to be before I start to forgo the dough?  Is there something out there that I can be so passionate about and emotionally vested in that the money means very little?  I honestly don’t know how to answer that.  Does that make me a shallow, superficial, uninspired corporate citizen?  Maybe.  But the rub for me is that fourth variable - the currency of pragmatism.  When you have a family and the desire to provide for them, is it really pragmatic to run toward ”a calling” without regard to economic currency?  Some of you will say that one will drive the other (“Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow”).  And I say - in most cases – that’s bullshit! 

What Professor Bunderson failed to do in his presentation – and I suspect in his research at large - is draw the connection to how the Zookeeper’s experience applies to the world-of-work.  And I think that’s because it doesn’t apply.  There is a big difference between liking what you do for a living and finding an idealology in it.  That doesn’t mean they can’t be the same, but I think it happens on rare occasions, in distinct professions, and with unique individuals.  For the rest of us…money and relationships should be enough.  As for ideology, leave it for the animals. 

* ”The Call of the Wild: Zookeepers, Callings, and the Dual Edges of Deeply Meaningful Work”