What would you do if you didn’t have to work? It’s a hypothetical situation we’ve all entertained. But the real underlying question is: why do we work?.
American psychologist and top TED speaker, Dr. Barry Schwartz, dives deep into this surprising and complex purpose of work in our lives in his short and insightful book, “Why We Work”.
You can probably finish it in one plane ride. But if you’re too busy, here’s our five biggest takeaways:
1. We need more out of our jobs than a paycheck.
We need meaning. We need a deeper sense of purpose. About two years ago, Gallup revealed a sobering statistic — 90 percent of 25 million workers polled indicated that they “spend half their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be.” And only 13 percent of people feel engaged and fulfilled by their jobs. Life is too short. This has to change.
2. Any job can offer people satisfaction.
It’s true. Schwartz references a study around hospital custodians as an example. The janitors who got real fulfilment out of their work believed they were making a meaningful impact. They weren’t just mopping floors and emptying trash baskets — they’re a part of an institution that cures diseases and saves lives. Their job is an essential piece in the puzzle. The secret: It’s not about what you do. It’s all about believing what you’re doing is valuable and feeling appreciated.
3. A strong mission is key for a higher sense of purpose.
A clear mission inspires employee engagement and loyalty. Referencing it yearly won’t do the trick. Your mission needs to be aligned with your culture. And you don’t need to work for an organization that saves lives to find meaning and purpose in what you do. It’s more about emphasizing the ways in which an employee’s work makes other people’s lives a little bit better or easier.
4. Be mindful with the carrot-and-stick approach.
Rewards and punishments actually have negative effects on employee engagement and work satisfaction. Incentives fail to motivate people to do the right thing by ignoring intrinsic motivation. Studies show that people are less likely to help load a couch into a van when you offer payment than when you don’t. Why? Because it makes their gesture a transaction rather than a favor to another human being.
5. We are what society expects us to be.
Humans aren’t actually money-driven by nature. However, our work is structured on the assumption that we do it just for the paycheck, which can make us unsatisfied with our jobs. If we design workplaces that allow employees to find meaning in their work, we’ll design a society that values work. His advice? Give employees discretion, autonomy, and the opportunity to learn and grow.
Most people are either checked out or sleepwalking through their day. It’s time to rethink the way we work and transform employee engagement.