Is it Human Nature to Dislike Work?

Sunday’s New York Times included a provoking opinion piece from a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, Barry Schwartz. The article, titled Rethinking Work, shed light on last year’s Gallup poll that found that almost 90 percent of workers were “not engaged” with or “actively disengaged” from their jobs. That’s not a groundbreaking finding, but it’s still truly amazing when you think about it. Most of us don’t like the thing we spend the most time doing.

So how do we change this? Or maybe a better question is — can we change this? As the NYT article points out, the famous economist Adam Smith would probably say that we couldn’t. He believed that efficiency was gained from monotonous, routinized work. Of course, it’s the routine of work that drives much of our dissatisfaction.

Professor Schwartz believes that we can make strides towards a solution by giving employees more of a say in how they do their jobs, offering them opportunities to learn and grow, and by encouraging them to suggest improvements to the work process and listening to what they say. Additionally, he pointed out that that we need to emphasize the ways in which an employee’s work makes other people’s lives better.

The missing ingredient we would suggest is to find something that you love. We know that’s easy to write and a lot harder to do. But finding what you love to do takes discipline and an interactive approach. There probably won’t be a single “aha!” moment, but rather a series of realizations that lead you down the right path.

Rather than attempt to identify the job you might enjoy, start with identifying the types of tasks you enjoy and the areas you are interested in. For example, do you prefer managing people and projects, or building and tinkering solo. In those little preferences lie insights to the types of jobs you might enjoy. It’s equally important to be disciplined and not chase fads. There is always the temptation to chase the glamorous, prestigious or “safe” jobs. Chase a career you will love rather than a career you think will make you rich.

We are already seeing a shift in the right direction. The most recent Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll indicated that younger Americans were to site that their top priority as doing something that they find enjoyable or making a difference in society. Hopefully we can continue this line of thinking.

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Advice Annie is a team of Tapwage writers and guest contributors who help answer career and workplace questions