Don’t love your job? There’s a reason for it

When it comes to work, we are doing it all wrong.

That’s the word from Barry Schwartz, whose incredibly popular TED Talks about the modern workplace have been seen by more than 10 million people. They’re so popular, in fact, that the organizers of the series convinced him to publish a book called Why We Work

The problem, says Schwartz, is that we assume that people don’t really want to work, that they’re just in it for the paycheck.

“Companies create structures to make work more supervised, less autonomous, and less creative, with the expectation that this will boost productivity,” says Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College. “Yet these very structures reduce productivity, and create disengaged, less productive workers.”

Schwartz argues that the vast majority of employees want to work hard for the sheer satisfaction of doing a job well. It’s especially true for young people.

“I think Millennials really want work that means something,” Schwartz says. “They don’t just want a paycheck. I think they take it for granted that work will have these non-material benefits that I write about.”

Why We Work, published by the new TED imprint at Simon and Schuster, shares Schwartz’s extensive research into the workplace. And a lot of it is downright dark. He writes:

“The vast majority of us, some 63 percent, are not engaged. We are checked out, sleepwalking through our days, putting little energy into our work. And the rest of us are actively disengaged, actually hating our jobs. In other words, work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment for nearly 90 percent of the world’s workers.”

Don’t Love Your Job? There’s a Reason for It

Yet, there’s good news. Successful, young startup founders aren’t cool only because they’re rich or because their ideas took off: they’re cool because they’re passionate and they have work they love. And the enthusiasm is rubbing off on their employees.

“There are plenty of examples, all the ‘100 Best Places to Work’ lists,” says Schwartz. “Google is a sexy example and people talk about the great cafeteria, but it’s not the food. They stay for the work.”

Schwartz says the most important element to foster is a strong company mission: believing in the company mission helps workers thrive.

“You’ve got Zappos. They have inspired their workforce to feel like there is nothing more important than satisfying the customer. Another one is the Container Store. Everybody there can’t do enough to help you. They are not doing anything sexy like Google, they’re in retail.”

Schwartz encourages companies to give employees the flexibility and freedom to do great things in their roles.

“Give it a try, with every expectation that it will produce a more productive workforce. There’s evidence that happy workplaces are industry leaders in many different industries. For leaders and managers, you don’t even have to do it out of the goodness of your heart. You can just be interested in the bottom line, and still make these changes.”

Cover photo credit: Lauren Kallen

Inside photo credit: Bill Holsinger-Robinson/Flickr

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