How Important is Work

It has become generally accepted that we enjoy our work more when we are given autonomy, the work is not too challenging or easy, and we feel that our work has purpose. While I think autonomy and finding the right level of challenge are undoubtedly beneficial, I have been considering for a while if there are potential downsides to having work that is too purposeful and enjoyable.

Occupations that more purposeful than others, such as social work, health care, education and research, seem to be more prone to exploit workers; expecting a lot of work for little pay. That is not to say that the same is not rampant in all industries - but what sets these occupations apart is that they will have highly educated workers, working long hours often below or just meeting minimum wages. Moreover, burn out is also very common among these occupations, indicating that workers draw from their last reserves to support their work.

Thinking of more extreme situations, such as wartime, we can see that people will often work to their limit for no pay at all if it is for a greater purpose.

I think this characteristic of us humans is beautiful, and one of the reasons while we can live in a (for the most part) peaceful and prosperous society. However, I think there is a big difference between supporting your economy at wartime in a defensive war and implementing features for an app in a start-up. The latter may also make a big positive difference in the world; but for the most part, will make the biggest difference for investors seeking returns on their investment, and even potentially do harm in the world (think Facebook).

Work is a part of life, and without work, we cannot live - since we need food, shelter and medical care that can only be provided by organised work at the scale our society requires. However, I think it is important to keep in mind that work is not life, that for the most part, our jobs have a purpose and bring good into the world, but we should not see them as all-consuming goals for our existence.

Categories: contemplations