This content was published first in The Sunday Letters Journal: https://sundayletters.larrygmaguire.com/p/is-work-good-for-us by Larry G. Maguire on Sun, 09 Apr 2023 10:55:30 GMT
One of the main contentions that I hold regarding work is that it makes us sick—first psychologically, then physically. It’s also injurious. Despite health and safety at work legislation and bodies enforcing these rules, businesses breach them, and workers are hurt or even killed daily. Work causes us stress, anxiety, and even depression as we attempt to close the gap between the life we have and the one to which we aspire. In the body’s stress response, cortisol is produced to regulate energy release and other body processes. Some stress is good for us, but long-term stress causes elevated cortisol in the blood and contributes to heart disease, weight gain, and a variety of inflammatory illnesses.
There are about three billion people at work across the planet, and merely 40% say they are happy with work1 . That’s nearly two billion people who are unhappy with work. And little wonder when the primary aim of corporations is to produce profit from their endeavours. Just like plant and machinery, buildings and equipment, raw materials and our systems of working, people are often seen as objects to be manipulated in the pursuit of that profit. And this comes despite all our talk about the importance of wellness at work and the initiatives we build around that.
Some of us consider ourselves resilient. We manage to navigate these challenges and push forward. We may be able to ignore the physical dangers in the workplace or the questionable management practices we’ve been asked to enact. We find a way to cope with our narcissistic or even psychopathic bosses. We tell ourselves that we just need to get through this moment, this hour, this day, and maybe tomorrow will be better. Besides, we need the money.
But money is not a sufficient motivator. In 1997, Bruno S. Frey, Professor of Economics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, claimed that money does not motivate people to work2 . In fact, Frey suggested that higher monetary rewards have a negative relationship with motivation. It demotivates people. Higher pay makes people less committed to their work and may reduce their performance.
Frey’s 5 Basic Propositions Intrinsic motivation is of great importance for all economic activities. It is inconceivable that people are motivated solely or even mainly by external incentives.
The use of monetary incentives crowds out intrinsic motivation under identifiable and relevant conditions (Crowding-Out Effect).
Other external interventions, such as commands or regulations, can drive out intrinsic motivation.
External interventions may enhance intrinsic motivation under some conditions (Crowding-ln Effect).
Changes in intrinsic motivations may spill over to areas not directly affected by monetary incentives or regulations (SpillOver Effect)
You can download a copy of Frey’s book here .
So the responsibility to choose healthy work must be with us—the individual. And if the things I write have an aim, it is to nudge you towards a healthier choice about the kind of work you do. Whether or not I achieve that is another matter. It’s an ongoing pursuit, one that is personal to me.
In most of what I write, I am seeking an answer to a fundamental question; how can we find and perform work that provides us with the psychological nutrients to fulfil us for a lifetime while also providing us with an income?
This is not an easy question to answer and may, in fact, be ultimately unanswerable. That said, there are people who are doing work that fits this model of the ideal work, so this makes me hopeful. Can you help me answer this question? Take part in the survey here.
How Do You Feel About Work?
Here’s some of what you’ve told me so far
“I’m now leading fraud and abuse, a department of 30 people. I really like the topic and the people, but I don’t like the politics associated with the job.”
“I teach piano to people of all ages. I've been doing it for 18 years since I left my cushy IT job in 2006. It was the best choice I ever made- teaching piano is always fresh and refreshing, and I always get to make a difference in people's lives through the magic of music.”
“Sales, feels good when it goes well. Lots of pressure when it doesn't.”
“I'm fortunate that my “work” is also my “play”, so now I work because I love what I do.”
“I need it to pay the bills. If I was able to do something else that was a personal interest to me instead, I would do that.”
“In the beginning, it was to help others and benefit me in my own sobriety. Now it feels like I am chugging along to pay the bills. I am burned out.”
“Work gives me satisfaction. My clients are pleased with what I do and how I do it, and they share their enthusiasm with me.”
The Work Survey This survey remains open to submissions, so if you have not yet had your say, you can do that here. Tell me about the work you do, what you love and hate about it, and what you’d do with your time if you had the financial resources to live your life how you choose.
How Do You Feel About Work?
Unworking I’ll continue to explore this question each week, Monday to Friday, in Unworking . These writings will be short—3 or 4 min read and will be published every morning. Here are the ones from last week.
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1 [TED]. Bush, M. C. (2019, February 9). This is what makes employees happy at work [Video]. YouTube.
2 Frey, B. S. (1997). Not just for the money.