Measuring a Calling

Summer 2010

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Matt Bloom recalls a pastor describing his job as "death by a thousand paper cuts."

Management Professor Bloom had heard the expression before. But in a profession that is commonly considered a vocation, what did it mean? How does a person become so worn down by the demands of the job that he or she loses that vital spark?

"I’ve interviewed quite a few clergy who are at the end of a long career, and you could roughly put them in two groups," says Bloom. "One group says, ‘That was amazing.’ And one group says, ‘I can’t wait to be done.’ How do you get such different results? What explains that?"

Bloom recently was awarded a five-year, $500,000 Lilly Endowment grant to study well-being at work among people in the caring professions. "Flourishing in Ministry" involves a longitudinal study of a group of Indiana clergy from 10 denominations and their families in order to discover what makes work life-enriching rather than a depleting experience. The research will later extend to physicians, nurses and humanitarian aid workers.

Bloom and fellow researchers Robert Bretz, Giovanini Professor of Management at Notre Dame, and Amy Colbert of the University of Iowa hope to understand at a deep level such issues as resiliency, how people thrive in the midst of challenge and the importance of a sense of well-being at work.

While the initial studies pertain to clergy, Bloom said the research relates to business practice in general given the growing awareness that the workplace can provide a person with a sense of personal fulfillment. The researchers plan to produce a number of academic publications, as well as scholarly and popular books about the topic.

The Lilly Endowment is an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation that supports the causes of religion, education and community development. More information about the project is available at