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Opening Arguments

Work, work, work

If you think your job sucks, you're far from alone:

More broadly, just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.

Demand for our time is increasingly exceeding our capacity — draining us of the energy we need to bring our skill and talent fully to life. Increased competitiveness and a leaner, post-recession work force add to the pressures. The rise of digital technology is perhaps the biggest influence, exposing us to an unprecedented flood of information and requests that we feel compelled to read and respond to at all hours of the day and night.

[. . .]

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

And the disillusionment, apparently, is not just confined to the worker bees and middle managers. Even top executives, it seems, don't believe they're "making much of a difference" and are pretty much "running on empty" by the time they get home.

I dunno. This seems like a case of "the more you get, the more you want." Workers today are dissatisfied with their lot? How would they like to work under, say, 19th century conditions, when 12-hour (or longer) work days were the norm, contitions ranged from intolerable to downright dangerous, and laissez faire indifference gave all the power to employers and none to the workers? Now, it isn't enough to do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. We want our work to be "fulfilling," whatever the hell that is, and meet our physical, emotional, mental and spirtual needs. Wowser. I can't think of anyone or anything in my whole life that has met all four of my "core needs." I imagine if I got to heaven and asked if they were going to be met there, God himself would say, "Oh, get over yourself. Isn't it enough just to be here?"

No matter how fulfilling it is, work is going to carry a certain amount of dissatisfaction, simply because you're working toward somebody else's goals and not your own. The trick, I discovered early on, is to find something you're good at and enjoy, the kind of thing you'd do even if you weren't getting paid for it; then the job will seem less like work and more like part of your life mission. Certainly a lot of people can't do this because of one circumstance or another. The trick in that case is to just take the paycheck and go make something else besides work the focus of your life. At least, the people who do that have seemed the happiest to me.