Trying to Decipher the Real Reason to Work
With so many people claiming to be unhappy with their job, we need to look at why this should be. Is the real reason to work as simple as providing a metaphorical or literal roof over our heads? Or, are there more compelling factors that motivate us in the workplace? It could be argued that any role and every job offer the potential to be satisfying on a number of levels.
But low-paid, repetitive work that society insists on due to the demand for affordable goods such as electronics, cars, clothing, etc., means job satisfaction can be lacking. We may assume then, that only certain types of work allow people to find satisfaction beyond a salary. Work such as medicine, the arts, teaching, nursing – jobs with engagement and so-called higher-meaning.
So, are we saying work that satisfies us is not available to everybody, or that unsatisfying work is the result of an appetite for materialistic pleasure? Both sound reasonable. But what if both were wrong?
The real reason to work, and to continue to work, is tied up in a desire for purpose. It is a real need to feel part of something that we are actively contributing to. And that feeling is as meaningful to a heart surgeon as it is to someone working on a production line.
The Desire for a Purpose
Without getting too deep, we are all looking for a purpose in our lives. Relating that to your work life is a fairly obvious step. In normal circumstances, we all spend a majority of our adult lives in work. Even if your current job is not satisfying your purpose, you generally try to do your very best work each day. This will help you to achieve a sense of accomplishment that only hard work tends to provide. Activity builds its own momentum, so if you are working hard at your current job, you just increase your odds of running into the right purpose in your work. That sense of satisfaction is an incredibly powerful emotion, outstripping the work, your position in the company and yes, even your salary. Take that one element away and no matter the financial rewards (within reason!), you will be miserable.
Although finding your life’s purpose in work alone is not desirable or realistic, do not undervalue the importance of finding meaning and fulfilment in what you do in your job. Try and find ways to bring your own personal meaning to you work, no matter what you do. If you work with customers face-to-face, ensure each interaction is as meaningful as it can be. We have spoken about personal integrity in another blog post, and that is important here too. Knowing you have made a difference in someone else’s life, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, can have a major positive effect on your attitude and relationship with your work.
Being good at what you do makes work more enjoyable, whether you are building a wall or are a professional musician. The reason, of course, is that colleagues and clients appreciate a job well done and are likely to express their appreciation.
Behavioural psychologists refer to this as social reinforcement. Social reinforcement is every bit as powerful as money. Respect, praise, or friendliness are as potent as any drug in motivating people to work hard. What is more, social reinforcement increases your interest in the work you do because it gets filled with social significance. These experiences – and not money – are the real reason to work. It is what makes people want to return to their place of work day after day, even after retirement.
You should not forget that most jobs are vastly entertaining. To paraphrase Shakespeare; “the workplace is a stage and all the men and women there merely players”. By all means, work to live, but remember your job must fulfil you as a person, so make the most of it!