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Zest and work

Journal of Organizational BehaviorJ. Organiz. Behav. 30, 161–172 (2009)Published online in Wiley InterScience( DOI: 10.1002/job.584 CHRISTOPHER PETERSON1*, NANSOOK PARK2,NICHOLAS HALL3 AND MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN31University of Michigan, Michigan, U.S.A.
2University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island, U.S.A.
3University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Zest is a positive trait reflecting a person’s approach to life with anticipation, energy, andexcitement. In the present study, 9803 currently employed adult respondents to an Internet sitecompleted measures of dispositional zest, orientation to work as a calling, and satisfaction withwork and life in general. Across all occupations, zest predicted the stance that work was acalling (r ¼ .39), as well as work satisfaction (r ¼ .46) and general life satisfaction (r ¼ .53).
Zest deserves further attention from organizational scholars, especially how it can beencouraged in the workplace. Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Your work is to discover your work, and then with all of your heart to give yourself to it.—the Buddha Recent years have seen a widespread call for the study of work organizations in which people can bewell and do well (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003; Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi, & Damon, 2001;Luthans, 2003; Wright, 2003). The emergence of the positive perspective within organizationalpsychology has brought new attention to the venerable topic of work satisfaction (Hoppock, 1935).
Satisfaction with the work that one does is seen not just as a contributor to good performance andincreased profitability but as a worthy end in its own right (Heslin, 2005). Given the diminishingcontribution of increased salary to well-being, full consideration of the other factors that lead tosatisfaction at work and life is imperative (Diener & Seligman, 2004).
The present study investigated a dispositional influence on work satisfaction: the overall zest and enthusiasm with which a person lives. Also identified as energy (Thayer, 1996), liveliness (McNair,Lorr, & Droppleman, 1971), vitality (Ryan & Frederick, 1997), exuberance (Jamison, 2004), or joie devivre, zest has also been discussed in the organizational literature as (work specific) vigor (Shirom,2003) and engagement (Britt, Adler, & Bartone, 2001). Zest is one of the strengths of character * Correspondence to: Christopher Peterson, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor,MI 48109-1043, U.S.A. E-mail: Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
included in a recent classification of widely valued positive traits, where it is defined as the habitualapproach to life with anticipation, energy, and excitement (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
There exists an associated self-report measure of zest (Park & Peterson, 2006b; Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005). It presents 10 statements that respondents rate as characteristic of themselves or not(e.g., ‘‘I have lots of energy’’). Zest so assessed predicts general life satisfaction among children, youth,and adults (Park & Peterson, 2006a, 2006c; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). The hypothesis testedin the present research is that zest is also associated with work satisfaction.
We focused on zest—a dispositional characteristic of workers—because past research has shown that work satisfaction is not simply a function of the work itself (e.g., Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin,& Schwartz, 1997). The features of a job of course make a difference. Safety and security matter, andchallenge, variety, and responsibility must be present to optimal degrees for satisfying work (Warr,1987). But what a person brings to his or her work is also important. Those who are generally happy—due to their biological, psychological, or social makeup—are more likely to be satisfied at work(Campbell, Converse, & Rodgers, 1976; Staw, Bell, & Clausen, 1986). Those who are extraverted andsocially engaged are also more likely to be satisfied (Watson, 2000), especially if they find close friendsin the workplace (Rath, 2006). Zest as a construct captures many of these characteristics (Peterson &Seligman, 2004).
Decades ago, Hersey (1955) made a similar argument that zest on the part of workers translates itself into satisfaction, commitment, and accomplishment. He approached zest as a psychological state asopposed to a trait, and in a series of multiple case studies, he mapped its rise and fall into productiveversus unproductive days at work. However, some workers were more likely than others to be generallyenthusiastic, and these were the workers who across days were most involved and successful in whatthey did.
The present research also investigated the association of zest with an individual’s orientation to work (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985). A job may be regarded as simply that, a source ofmaterial benefits to be enjoyed elsewhere. Or work may be more involving and seen as a way to achievestatus, power, and self-esteem. Finally, work may be intrinsically rewarding and a central part of one’svery existence. Material benefits and social advancement may occur because of work, but in this case,the real motivation of the worker is to be fulfilled. These three orientations toward work have beenrespectively identified as jobs, careers, and callings.
Wrzesniewski et al. (1997) devised a self-report questionnaire that measures these orientations as individual differences and administered it to several hundred full-time employees at a small liberal artscollege and a large state university student health service, along with measures of work and lifesatisfaction and various job features. A range of occupations was represented: physicians, nurses,administrators, pharmacists, health educators, librarians, supervisors, computer programmers andanalysts, medical technicians, administrative assistants, and clerks.
Their results showed that work regarded as a calling is the most rewarding. Those who regarded work in these terms described it as central in their lives and enjoyable. Not surprisingly, their satisfactionwith work was high. They did not look forward to retirement, and they took fewer sick days than otherresearch participants, a finding replicated by Wrzesniewski, Tosti, and Landman (2006) in a study ofnurses. Regarding work as a calling was more likely among older workers and those in higher statusjobs, but it is interesting and important that this stance was evident among some workers of all ages andall job types.
For whom do callings occur? Research is almost nonexistent except for an ambitious longitudinal study by Dobrow (2006) of talented high school musicians, some of whom went on to pursue work inmusic and some of whom did not. Her perspective on being called to life as a professional musician wasthat young people do not discover this calling within themselves so much as create it through extensive Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
involvement with musical activities and enjoyable interaction with other musicians. Musical ability inand of itself did not predict who would develop this calling.
Most discussions of the antecedents of callings have been theoretical. Organizational scholars have conjectured that people in search of the most satisfying work—callings—need to discover theirstrengths (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001), identify their interests (Hansen, 1994), recraft their jobs(Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001), find a mentor (Murray, 2003), align their personal values with thoseinherent in their profession (Gardner et al., 2001), find a purpose in their work (Hall & Chandler, 2005),and so on. The present study provided an empirical test of an additional contributor to the stance thatwork is a calling: dispositional zest. People who are zestful are more likely to pursue flow (engagement)in their everyday activities and to regard their lives as meaningful (Peterson, Ruch, Beerman, Park, &Seligman, 2007). Accordingly, when zest is brought to bear on one’s work, then that work shouldbecome central, fulfilling, and meaningful—it should be seen as a calling.
Participants in the present study were several thousand adult respondents to an Internet site who completed measures of dispositional zest, orientation to work as a calling, and satisfaction with workand life in general. The data were cross-sectional, precluding strong conclusions about the sequencingof these constructs. The compensating virtue of the sample was its heterogeneity, allowing thequestions of interest to be explored across a variety of occupations, from blue collar to professional.
Homemakers were also included in the sample, given that this career can be as much of a calling as paidwork (Tinsley & Tinsley, 1989). Respondents were from the United States as well as other nations.
The initial findings of Wrzesniewski et al. (1997) imply variation in the mean levels of the measures across occupations but not in how the measures are associated with one another. So, we expected thatacross all occupations, those individuals high in zest would regard their work as a calling and would bemore satisfied with their work and with life in general.
The sample consisted of 9803 currently employed adult respondents who completed the measures ofinterest on the Authentic Happiness website ( between September 2002,and December 2003. Only respondents currently employed were included (77 per cent of those whoregistered on the website), which means that the final sample excluded individuals who wereretired, out of work, unable to work, or attending school full-time. For the relatively small number($1 per cent) of respondents who completed a given measure more than once, only the first set of scoreswas used.
The resulting sample was 75 per cent from the United States. Also represented were respondents from other English-speaking nations—Canada (8 per cent), United Kingdom (7 per cent), Australia (5per cent), and New Zealand (1 per cent)—as well as a handful of respondents from each of 70þ othernations around the world, mainly Western Europe and East Asia.
Participants provided their occupation type: (a) professional (chief executives, owners of large businesses, doctors, lawyers, and dentists professors); (b) managerial (managers or owners of medium-sized businesses; other professionals with special licenses of certificates: nurses, opticians,pharmacists, social workers, teachers); (c) administrative (administrative personnel, owners, andproprietors of small businesses); (d) clerical (clerks, secretaries, administrative assistants, andsalespeople); (e) blue-collar (skilled and unskilled laborers); and (f) homemaker. Table 1 describes the Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Table 1. Sample characteristics (n ¼ 9803) demographics of each group. The typical person in each occupational category was about 40 years ofage, but age, education, and gender varied across categories as would be expected. Blue-collar workersand homemakers were somewhat more likely to be from the United States.
Respondents were not explicitly recruited to participate in this research. It can be presumed that theylearned about the website from our academic or popular articles, media interviews, other websites, orfrom word-of-mouth. Although diverse, the sample is not representative of the adult population ofworkers, in the United States or elsewhere.
Respondents first registered on the website and provided basic demographic information, including age, gender, educational level, occupation, and nationality. Because this website was intended forinternational use, it did not ask respondents about their ethnicity. After completing measures, arespondent received immediate feedback about his or her scores, and we believe that this featuremotivated participants and led some of them to mention the website to other people. The measures arepresented on this website only in English, which means that respondents needed to be English readers.
VIA inventory of strengths (VIA-IS) (Peterson et al., 2005)The VIA-IS is a 240-item self-report questionnaire that uses 5-point Likert scales to measure the degreeto which respondents endorse strength-relevant statements about themselves (1 ¼ very much unlike methrough 5 ¼ very much like me). There are 24 strengths of character measured by the VIA-IS, includingzest, and each strength is assessed with ten items. Sample items measuring zest include:  I want to fully participate in life, not just view it from the sidelines.
 I look forward to each new day.
 I cannot wait to get started on a project.
 I awaken with a sense of excitement about the day’s possibilities.
Responses are averaged within scales, all of which have satisfactory internal consistency measured by Cronbach’s a coefficient (a’s > .70) and substantial test–retest correlations over a 4-month period(r’s $ .70). Scale scores are negatively skewed (X’s: range from 3.5 to 4.0) but variable (SDs: rangefrom 0.5 to 0.9). In the present sample, the average score for zest was 3.51 (SD ¼ 0.72), and internalconsistency estimated by Cronbach’s a was .82. There were small correlations between zest anddemographic variables: age (r ¼ .15, p < .001), female gender (r ¼ .07, p < .001), education (r ¼ .06, Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
p < .001), and being from the United States (r ¼ .03, p < .02). We controlled for demographics insubsequent analyses, although conclusions were never altered by so doing.
Work-life questionnaire (Wrzesniewski et al., 1997)To measure stance toward work, respondents were provided three brief scenarios describing individualswho approached work as a job, a profession, or a calling. Here are excerpts from each scenario: Ms. A works primarily to earn enough money to support her life outside of her job. If she wasfinancially secure, she would no longer continue with her current line of work, but would reallyrather do something else instead. . . [job]Ms. B basically enjoys her work, but does not expect to be in her current job 5 years from now.
Instead, she plans to move on to a better, higher level job. . . [career]Ms. C’s work is one of the most important parts of her life. She is very pleased that she is in this lineof work. Because what she does for a living is a vital part of who she is, it is one of the first things shetells people about herself. . . [calling] For each scenario, they used a 0–3 scale to indicate how much they were like the person described, from 0 ¼ not at all like me through 3 ¼ very much like me. They also rated their satisfaction with workon a 7-point scale, from 1 ¼ completely dissatisfied through 4 ¼ neither satisfied nor dissatisfied to7 ¼ completely satisfied.
In the present sample, respondents were somewhat more likely to describe their work as a calling (X ¼ 1.34, SD ¼ 1.16) instead of a job (X ¼ 1.15, SD ¼ 1.15) or career (X ¼ 1.13, SD ¼ 1.07). Ratingshere for work as a calling were somewhat higher than those reported by Wrzesniewski et al. (1997)—approximately 1.1—but the ratings for work as a job and work as a career were essentially the same.
Satisfaction with work was negatively skewed and rated by the present respondents as somewhat northof neutral (X ¼ 4.66, SD ¼ 1.54), as Wrzesniewski et al. (1997) and other researchers found (Seashore& Taber, 1975).
There were correlations between these orientations and several demographic variables. So, regarding work as a job was more likely among younger individuals (r ¼ À.12, p < .001) and less educatedindividuals (r ¼ À.16, p < .001), and more likely among those from the United States (r ¼ .05,p < .001). Work as a career was similarly more likely among younger respondents (r ¼ À.24, p < .001)and less educated respondents (r ¼ À.05, p < .001). Work as a calling was more likely amongrespondents who were older (r ¼ .17, p < .001) and more educated (r ¼ .20, p < .001). Work satisfactionwas somewhat higher for older workers (r ¼ .12, p < .001), more educated workers (r ¼ .10, p < .001),and females (r ¼ .04, p < .001).
Satisfaction with life scale (SWLS) (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985)The SWLS is a five-item self-report questionnaire that measures one’s evaluation of satisfaction withlife in general: for example, ‘‘The conditions of my life are excellent.’’ Individuals respond to each itemon 7-point Likert scales from 1 ¼ ‘‘strongly disagree’’ through 7 ¼ ‘‘strongly agree.’’ Responses aresummed to yield an overall score of life satisfaction. Research demonstrates acceptable psychometricproperties for the SWLS (see Diener, 1994, for details). In the current samples, the scale was highlyreliable (a ¼ .85). Scores were negatively skewed (X ¼ 21.0) but variable (SD ¼ 7.6). Again, there weresmall correlations between this scale and several of the demographic variables: age (r ¼.06, p < .001),female gender (r ¼ .08, p < .001), and education (r ¼ .16, p < .001). Being from the United States or nothad no correlation with life satisfaction (r ¼ .01, ns).
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Across all occupations, zest predicted the stance that work was a calling as well as work satisfactionand general life satisfaction. Professionals were the highest on zest and satisfaction with work and withlife in general, whereas clerical workers were the least zestful and the least satisfied. Homemakers werenot especially high in zest, but they were as satisfied as managers with their work and their lives, andmany regarded their work as a calling. Professionals were most likely to view their work as a calling,and clerical workers were least likely.
Table 2 presents mean scores on the measures of interest for respondents from the six occupationalgroups. There were small differences in zest and satisfaction across groups. Professionals were thehighest on zest and satisfaction with work and with life in general, findings which remained even whenage, gender, and education were taken into account. Clerical workers were the least zestful and the leastsatisfied. Homemakers were not especially high in zest, but they were as satisfied as managers withtheir work and their lives.
There were also differences across groups in orientations to work as a calling, career, and job, but the effect sizes were small, supporting previous arguments that these stances cut across occupational types.
Interestingly, though, the largest effect size was for work as a calling, which means that occupationaccounted for more of the variance in this stance than it did for the other orientations. Professionalswere most likely to view their work as a calling, and clerical workers least likely.
Following the example of Wrzesniewski et al. (1997), these data were also examined not just as continuous variables but also in terms of an individual’s dominant orientation to work, by calculatingthe highest score from among the calling, career, and job ratings and using this score to identify theirorientation. Most respondents (78 per cent) had one score higher than the two others, and these weredistributed across the three stances: calling (37 per cent of entire sample), career (16 per cent), and job(25 per cent). All three predominant stances were evident among respondents in each occupationalcategory, although orientation to work and job type were not independent (l2 ¼ 747, p < .001).
Note: Means in a column with different subscripts differ from one another by least-significant difference (LSD) pairwise multiplecomparisons ( p < .05). Effect size is estimated by partial eta square.
Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Consistent with the data in Table 2, callings were the predominant stance among professionals (69 percent), managers (55 per cent), and homemakers (45 per cent), whereas jobs were the predominantstance among administrative (39 per cent), clerical (56 per cent), and blue collar (49 per cent) workers.
Regardless of their occupation, those with calling as their dominant orientation were the most zestfuland the most satisfied with work and with life; those with job as their dominant stance were the leastzestful and the least satisfied with work and with life (all F’s[2.7667] > 700, p < .001).
Table 3 presents intercorrelations among the measures for the sample as a whole. These simplecorrelations are consistent with the hypothesis that zestful individuals would be more likely toexperience their work as a calling and more satisfied with their work and with life in general. Thesepatterns held not only across occupations but within each of them (correlations not shown). Aspredicted, zest was a positive correlate of orientation to work as a calling (r ¼ .39) and of satisfactionwith work (r ¼ .54). As already noted, controlling for demographic variables did not change the patternor magnitude of these results. Among the 24 strengths of character measured by the VIA-IS, zest wasthe single best predictor of work as a calling. When all of the measured strengths were controlled, thepartial correlation between zest and calling remained significant (r ¼ .24, p < .001).
The present study showed that dispositional zest predicts not only general life satisfaction but also worksatisfaction and the stance that work is a calling. These results replicate previous investigations of workas a calling by showing that this orientation to work is evident among people from differentoccupations, from blue collar to professional, and that within each occupational group, those whoregard work as a calling are more satisfied with work and with life in general. This study extendsprevious investigations by including a larger number and range of workers, notably those from outsidethe United States as well as homemakers.
There is no shortage of theoretical accounts of the antecedents of work as a calling, and the present data suggest that dispositional zest is one more influence.
Zest is important in a work organization because of its link to psychological well-being (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). Psychological well-being in turn predicts improved job performance andreduced turnover (Wright & Bonett, 2007; Wright, Bonett, & Sweeney, 1993; Wright & Cropanzano, Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
2000, 2004; Wright, Cropanzano, & Denney, 2002). Psychological well-being is also associated withbetter physical health (Pennix et al., 2001), which means a reduction in absenteeism and of coursehealth care costs (Langlieb & Kahn, 2005).
Given that zest is associated with so many desirable organizational outcomes, and assuming for the sake of discussion that it is a determinant and not epiphenomenal, the obvious practical question is howto promote a worker’s zest. Psychologists already know a great about how to do this (Peterson &Seligman, 2004). Physical health and fitness set the stage for zest (Thayer, 1996). Hope and optimismsustain it (Seligman, 1991), and there exist reliable strategies for teaching individuals to be moreoptimistic (Gillham, Reivich, Jaycox, & Seligman, 1995). Depression is a well-documented enemy ofzest, and its toll on productivity and physical health is enormous (Burton, Conti, Chen, Schultz, &Edington, 1999). The prevention or reduction of depression among workers might pay the additionalbenefit of increasing their sense that work is a calling (Goetzel, Ozminkowski, Sederer, & Mark, 2002).
Hersey (1955) argued that a supportive supervisor at work and good social relationships outside of work are important contributors to zest, implying additional targets for intervention (cf. Kasser &Ryan, 1999). Baker, Cross, and Woolen (2003) similarly proposed that relationships can becharacterized as more versus less energizing for participants and that the energy level of an entire workorganization can be depicted with a network analysis of these relationships. By implication, the goal ofany workplace should be to increase the density of energizing relationships while decreasing oreliminating those that de-energize. One may further speculate that positive psychology exercises thatcultivate gratitude and savoring, if tailored to the workplace, might also bolster zest (cf. Bryant &Veroff, 2006; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). Any strategy that helps workers see wheretheir activities fit into the larger picture should also increase their enthusiasm for what they do (Park &Peterson, 2003).
We speculate that zest—like many strengths of character—is contagious (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) and further that it may be possible to talk about the zest of an entire group of interactingindividuals (Park & Peterson, 2003). As an organizational-level virtue, zest is obviously related togroup morale and may even be equivalent to it (Hafsi & Misumi, 1992). Group morale has long beenstudied by organizational scholars (e.g., Stogdill, 1952), and consistently shown to have desirableconsequences for the group (e.g., Motowidlo & Borman, 1977). Perhaps the study of group morale canbe reinvigorated by examining it from the positive organizational perspective and specifically in termsof zest.
Although the relationship was small, there was a link between occupation and orientation to work as a calling. Professionals were most likely to have this stance, followed by managers, and then—interestingly—by homemakers. Clerical workers fared poorly. They were the least likely to see theirwork as a calling, they had the lowest levels of zest, and they were the least satisfied with work and withlife in general. At the same time, they were the most likely to regard their work as a career—a means toachieve status, power, and self-esteem and as a stepping-stone to another job. Might the affordances oftypical clerical positions be at odds with what workers want from them? In any event, interventions toboost zest and work satisfaction should focus on clerks and not on CEOs and managers who alreadyreceive so much attention from organizational psychologists.
Perhaps homemakers were relatively low in zest simply because many were tired. Regardless, homemakers on the whole were relatively satisfied with their work and their lives, and almost half of thesample (45 per cent) had calling as their dominant stance toward work. Among homemakers, zest wasas strongly related to this stance and to satisfaction as it was among other occupational groups,implying that interventions to increase their zest deserve attention as well from organizationalpsychologists. At the risk of stating the obvious, we point out that the method of assessing occupationlimited respondents to one choice. Many of the women (and some of the men) in our sample hadsubstantial responsibilities at home as well as at the paid occupations they indicated.
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The shortcomings of the present research included its rough classification of occupation types and its cross-sectional design. We have recently modified our website to allow respondents to describe theirwork in more refined terms, and we are undertaking longitudinal research to map out the processes bywhich work satisfaction develops (Wright & Staw, 1999).
Preliminary data from our research group are relevant. In a longitudinal study of young teachers, the character strength of zest on the part of teachers predicted classroom-level gains on the part of theirstudents, as measured by standardized tests more than one year later. In other words, zest in this studywas apparently causal and clearly not epiphenomenal.
Also worthy of future investigation is the finding reported by Wrzesniewski (2003) that work units where a large proportion of individuals regarded work as a calling had higher morale and bettercommunication. Research on character strengths has had had an individual focus, but many of thebenefits of good character may be most evident in social contexts like those provided by the workplace(Peterson & Park, 2006).
We should also comment on the use of an Internet sample. Increasingly popular as a research strategy, Internet samples using self-report questionnaires typically yield results of equivalentreliability and validity as do conventional samples administered paper-and-pencil measures (Gosling,Vazire, Srivastava, & John, 2004). Internet samples are often more diverse than traditional conveniencesamples, which is not surprising given that more than 70 per cent of U.S. adults have access to theInternet (Lebo, 2003). However, in the present research, the sample was not explicitly recruited, andtheir specific motives for participating were unknown. Compared to the general adult population,respondents were more likely to be female, to be college educated, and to have higher status jobs. Wehave more confidence in those findings that are similar across these contrasts as opposed to different,but regardless, replication of the present findings in better-characterized samples is needed.
What is clear is that a complex of positive characteristics—zest, orientation to work as a calling, and satisfaction—can be identified and that they have desirable consequences. A psychology of energy hasbeen out of fashion in most academic quarters for many years. So intuitively important is thecontribution of zest to making life worth living that we suggest the time has come for the reintroductionof a rigorous psychology of positive energy and zest. Organizational settings are a natural home for thisinquiry.
Thomas Wright, Amy Wrzeniewski, Michael Pratt, and Shoshana Dobrow are thanked for alerting us torelevant studies.
Christopher Peterson is Professor of Psychology and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University ofMichigan.
Nansook Park is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Rhode Island.
Nicholas Hall is a visiting scholar at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Martin E. P. Seligman is Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
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