17. Concluding remarks: You can rescue work from the grip of death by Bea Boccalandro

Studs Terkel
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It troubles me that our society thinks “work-life balance” exists. We put work and life on opposite ends of a zero-sum dynamic. Like a morbid seesaw, the more work we do, the less life we have. Given that the absence of life is death, our obsession with “work-life balance” reveals that, consciously or not, we consider working is a form of dying. 
 
I don’t know of any studies that measure how happy we are working as compared to dead. However, researchers have measured how happy we are working as compared to the closest thing to death I can think of: being sick in bed. Guess what? We are almost indifferent. Being sick in bed brings us the least amount of joy of all 39 typical daily activities, including such quotidian acts as commuting, housework and watching TV. Work, however, is barely better, ranking 38 out of 39 activities.1  Our experience with work might explain why we think “work-life balance” is the way it is. 
 
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Studs Terkel interviewed over 130 people about their work and used the term dying to describe working. Terkel’s conversations with spot welders, cab drivers, film producers and other workers, however, also led him to conclude that work is a natural home for our highest aspirations and deepest dreams: 
 
“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”2
 
Not surprisingly, Terkel’s interview with a policeman, a profession deeply infused with social purpose (when done well), is one of the chapters that fleshes out work as a “sort of life” as opposed to a “Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Despite tolerating department politics, being passed up for recognition, being misunderstood by the public and having a job with considerable unpleasantness, Chicago Officer Vincent Maher, considered he had “one of the most gratifying jobs in the world.” Maher didn't tolerate eight hours of work so that he could rush home to his source of meaning. By allowing him to protect vulnerable individuals from danger, his work provided at least some of the meaning in his life.
 
Maher didn’t see himself trapped on a work-life seesaw. Neither should we. Rather than trying to neutralize work’s poisonous effects with what we do the remaining half of our waking hours, we can fix work itself. We have the option of applying the “WE GIVE” Drivers of Effective Job Purposing (see post 9) that broaden the social mission of jobs with the opportunity to serve a societal cause. Our employees can go home, not parched for meaning and looking for a remedy for the void, but knowing they matter and feeling fulfilled. If FedEx, Caesars Entertainment and HP have job purposed driving, sales and housekeeping functions, it can be done to any job. 
 
In other words, you can rescue work from the grip of death. 
 
1Bryson, Alex and George MacKerron. “Are You Happy While You Work?” London School of Economics and Political Science. 2013.
2Terkel, Studs. Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, 1997.

 

Comments

What Millenials want from work....

Hi Bea: Years ago, you met my daughter Chelsie. She has joined me at three National Conferences on Service and Volunteerism. And, she has joined me at a few Corporate Volunteer Council meetings in the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Phoenix. I have been reading your Job Purposing Blog and was looking for the opportunity to share this nugget from a millennial's perspective... my kid Chelsie. It's a quick read and relates to some of your commentary. http://ynpnphoenix.nationbuilder.com/tips_for_getting_the_most_out_of_a_millennial_a_satirical_rendition_of_my_truth Roger Hancock CSAA Insurance Group

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Millennial: A Satirical Rendi

I am a dreaded millennial, the “look at me-I’m special-and need to be awarded because of my specialness” millennial. But if my employer can harness my enthusiasm and social conscious, they will no longer have a dreaded millennial. They will have an empowered-changemaking-progress-motivated-lets-do-it-now millennial. This is the year that the millennial generation ages 18-34 will surpass the baby boomers in size. And what an influence millennials have already made in our society! Millennials have turned corporate culture upside down and flooded the non-profit sector looking for meaning and value in our community. So here are some tips for those managing a millennial: 1.Reward me: As an 8 year old softball player, I received a trophy for dancing in the outfield. I learned that being “me” is special and important. And you better believe I need to hear that from everyone around me… Everyday. I am special and important. So don’t hold back. Lay it on thick. 2. Ditch the 8-5: What is the value of measuring work by hours and not results? Seriously, can anyone explain this to me? WHY do I need to be in a desk from 8-5 when I have yoga at 2:30. I can produce far more when I feel motivated to do so, when I feel respected as an adult to work autonomously. At times, I wake up at midnight with a brilliant idea, work on a proposal all night long because I am so jazzed about progress and life-changing programs. But I still have to report to work at 8am? I don’t think so. If I produce the results you want, why do you need me in a chair during regular business hours? 3.Remove time-sucking barriers: Like the previous generations before me, I have been taught that by working hard you can accomplish anything. But unlike my previous generations, I want expedited results. Instant gratification. I will not spend 30 years in a job working up the ladder. I will take advantage of all opportunity in front of me and I skip a few ladder rungs. I will wonder why I have been working so hard for the past 6 months and not been promoted. 4.Show me the impact: Even though I value job security, I will not waste time in a job I don’t like and doesn’t add value to our community. Peace out! This and tip number 3 is why I am likely to work for 9 different organizations in my lifetime. So let me run. I have an idea and I want to go. Millennials are creators because we have been taught and shown through technology that the sky is the limit and that things can be accomplished quickly on our own terms. I may be a spoiled product of my coddled raising, but I am the future. Good luck. - by Chelsie Hancock

Tolle

Bea, I am currently reaching The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. Have you read it? I have found it really interesting. He uses his own vernacular, but I think a lot of his ideas relate to your ideas with job purposing. If you haven't read it, it may be worth your time.

insight

Bea, I love the quantitatively verified likening of work to death. Your own "work" here is crucial and presents hope for us. Thank you.

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