Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why Does Work Suck?

I've been thinking a lot about work lately. Not just my specific job, but also the general nature of work. I've had great bosses and terrible ones, stimulating jobs and sleep-inducing jobs. By and large, I think I've been lucky. I've never been fired, and while I haven't gotten every job I wanted, I got some of them. Even if the job was a bad fit, I always met a handful of people who became (and remain) good friends.

However, I'm struck by how few people I know who truly love, or even like their jobs. Maybe they don't hate their work, but I can count the number who seem truly fulfilled on one hand. Part of that is because I have a lot of friends in the newspaper industry, which is imploding. But according to several surveys I've read, it's a widespread problem. This article said that only 50 percent of American workers are satisfied with their jobs, down from 79 percent in 1985. That is staggering.

From what I've seen, the problem isn't necessarily the work. It's crappy/incompetent bosses and office politics that get in the way of actually doing the work. I get the sense that many people don't feel empowered to perform their jobs to the best of their ability, and that's a shame. I know the world is also full of lazy people who do enough just to get by, who blame their problems on others. That's a given. But when smart, talented, energetic people feel stymied, that's depressing. The horror stories told by Florida's state workers are legendary. And since I live in Tallahassee, I've heard a lot of them over the years. I don't know that private industry is all that much better, aside from the pay.

The floor is open. Why does the modern-day workplace suck so much?


Sghoul said...

My thoughts:

1) Our educational system doesn't really make kids look at careers. So many kids graduate HS without REALLY knowing what they want to do or what they are good at. Colleges are FULL of kids getting degrees that don't know what they want to do with it. Well, if you don't know what you wanna do how are you gonna be happy?

2) Office life is full of silly work. We spend a large ammount of time doing things that produce littel to nothing. Pointless meetings, busy work, dead end projects...none of these things make people happy.

3) There is a reason they call it work and not happyfuntime. Biblically, work was part of the punishment for getting kicked from the garden.

4) There has to be darkness so you can appreciate the light. Some would say that if you were always happy then you don't appreciate the good things as much.

So, there you go.

EDP said...

I see what you're saying. It IS work. That being said, consider the amount of time people spend working. Shouldn't it be enjoyable/stimulating most of the time? I don't expect it to be a nonstop party, and I thrive on challenge. But being nibbled to death by petty bureacracy and ego-driven wild goose chases is a waste of time, and it accomplishes nothing. If people are allowed to focus on meeting the organization's needs to the best of their ability, that's a good gig.

Sghoul said...

Most of your issue though, stems from people, not the work. And shitty people are everywhere.

So, unless people start allowing me to do my genetic cleansing, you'll always have that problem.

Christina said...

Mmm...I don't know that work needs to be exciting and stimulating all of the time. I don't think we're really owed that, even though as privileged Gen-Xers, we may think so. :)

I see guys picking up garbage or folks working at the DMV and they do a valuable and needed service, but I don't think that it's their bosses job to make them feel self-actualized.

I like my job and I'm fortunate that it's stimulating enough (sometimes too stimulating!) but really, it's just a way for me to have enough money to do the things that are really important to me. I think I'd be okay with a more "petty" job that just paid more (though its easy for me to say that, having never been in that position.)

H F said...

I think we put too much pressure on our work to be our identity. And for some, it is. But for me, work is a means to an end: a paycheck. I love what I do and have a passion for it, but there are other things in my life that give me way more satisfaction than my job does. I find that attitude keeps me from getting caught up in playing mind games, playing the politics, etc. because I really just want to make the organization as awesome as it can be and then go home. I have other stuff going on.

As far as other people I still think it is true that more often than not, people don't quit jobs, they quit bosses. So many people get into management because of tenure or politics, and not because of any skill for managing people and motivating a team towards excellence. And as a result, office dysfunction is rampant!