The 4 not so surprising reasons why you work

September 7, 2017
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It’s six-thirty on a Monday morning and the alarm clock buzzes. There is little time to waste. You take a quick shower, eat some breakfast and off you go. You need to go to work. You’re not in a happy place. There’s still thirty-five years to go and then, then you are retired. That is when you can finally do the things you’d really like to do.

Maybe this is your life; maybe it’s the life of someone you know.

To many people, work is just a hassle. It’s a way to pay the bills, and it’s a burden. Thousands of people are frantically juggling their work/life balance.

Well, I’ve got news for you: there is no work/life; there is only life. Your work will be a substantial part of your life and the good news is that it can be truly meaningful. Your work can be a true driver for a fulfilling, high-quality life.

How is this?

In order to pinpoint the answer, we need to explore the four reasons why people work. To be clear, work is not a synonym for your job; work can be paid or unpaid.

The four reasons why we work

Reason one: Financial security

In our current economic system, we have associated work with our need for financial security.

Unless you have a pile of cash available, you’ll need to work to earn the money to pay for the things you need to live a minimally decent life. To the large majority of people, food, clothes, and a home are all paid for out of the income they receive from their work. Our need for job security is actually our need for financial security.

Our need for financial security is a negative driver as to why we work. Combating insecurity and ensuring that we feel at ease, is not something that helps us to enjoy life. In our current, increasingly globalised and robotised economy, increasingly more people are struggling to feel at ease as they face ever-increasing job and financial insecurity.

Reason two: Connection

We are innately social beings, and we need others to help us thrive. To many, work is a way of belonging. When we go to work, we become part of a group of people who all join together to achieve a common purpose. That is why losing a job hurts us both financially and socially.

At work, we meet new people, have a chat at the coffee machine to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and some people even meet their partner for life. Work has a social function.

In our current economy, the potential for connection is increasingly under pressure: as insecurity increases, we turn more to ourselves; we look out for our own interests and generally become less sociable.

Reason three: Personal growth

Although there is an ardent debate about the exact causes, there is a behavioural, cognitive, developmental and constructivist interpretation in that we all inherently have an innate drive to learn. We also want to apply our skills and become the best at what we do.

Work offers us the potential to achieve all of this. A stimulating new role which enables us to sharpen our existing skills, or put new skills under our belt, is intensely fulfilling. When we have the opportunity to bite off just a little bit more than we can chew when we are in our comfort zone, we stretch ourselves and achieve a state of flow.

In order to be able to achieve this state of flow there are two conditions:

  • We need to know which skills we have and which skills we want to develop.
  • We also need to find a suitable role or project that enables us to deploy our talent.

If we stay in a job that does not allow us to learn and grow, which often happens because we are too insecure to change, we become disconnected from our work after a while and if things take a turn for the worse, we end-up in a bore-out.

Reason four: Contributing to a bigger goal

Yes, we go to work to attain financial security, build social relations and develop ourselves. However, there is more to the story: work is not only about ourselves. We all have a need to transcend our own goals as we all want to contribute to a bigger picture.

By going to work, we join a group of people (or a team of colleagues) to achieve something bigger than ourselves. This is something inherently valuable. What is better than to contribute to the mission of the organisation? Isn’t this the reason there is an organisation in the first place?

Being the loftiest reason of the four, going to work helps us to give meaning to our lives.  When we look in the mirror and ask ourselves the question, “How did my activities contribute to making this world a better place?”, meaningful work will give you the answer.

You can find proof for this final reason in the millions of people offering their expertise and time in voluntary activities. Meaningfulness isn’t just reserved for unpaid work though; Elon Musk’s SpaceX, to name just one, shows that there are jobs that provide deep fulfilment.

So, where does that leave you?

If you have found a job that enables you to strike a balance between all the reasons you want to go to work, you are in a pretty good place. If you haven’t, don’t despair. Managers of organisations have a good reason to support all the reasons why we work: it brings organisations superior results.

So, next time the alarm clock buzzes you out of bed and you’re reluctant to go to work, think about what truly matters to you, which talents you want to develop and what type of organisation you want to work for. After that, have that coffee with your boss to discuss things. The chances are that he or she will be grateful for it. After all, your boss is a fellow person who is going to work for the same deeply human reasons as you are.


Want more?

Why do you work? Do you know the answer to that question? Maybe you get up every morning for financial security or because you want to connect to people. Or is it because you want to grow? Find out your answer by using the Happonomy Value Canvas!


Categories:   Inner Peace
Bruno Delepierre

Socially inspired entrepreneur, organizer of TEDx in Leuven, friend of M.I.T. Happonomy alchemist.

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