Why You Hate Work

If you have a job, odds are good that there’s a lot about it that you don’t like. At least that’s the finding of business consultant Tony Schwartz and Georgetown University professor Christine Porath. In their New York Times Sunday Review article “Why You Hate Work,” they offer data and other observations that suggest, “for most of us…work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.”

Some factors behind this widespread dissatisfaction include work demands exceeding the time available, other pressures springing from a less than robust economy, and the rise digital technology, which can make us feel constantly obligated to respond to new information, requests, and problems.

What, then, makes for a satisfying work experience? According to research the authors conducted both in partnership with The Harvard Business Review and with their own clients,

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

These findings, along with the article as a whole, spark several thoughts in response:

  1. Schwartz and Porath’s findings are interesting in light of a biblical understanding of humanity. God has intentionally designed us to be physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings, and so it should come as no surprise to see research that coincides with this reality.
  2. Also in line with a biblical perspective is the idea that employers who invest in their employees as something more than production cogs will likely find good news for their bottom line. In the words of the authors: “A truly human-centered organization puts its people first — even above customers — because it recognizes that they are the key to creating long-term value.”
  3. Schwartz and Porath focus mostly on giving direction to employers and managers in regard to how they can change their workplaces for the better. But I wonder if there are certain things that Christian employees, at least, can and should do in order to make their jobs less frustrating. One simple step might be to have realistic (but not cynical) expectations regarding work. We all need to realize that we work as fallen people in a fallen world. Frustration and setbacks are inevitable. We shouldn’t expect our jobs to be a problem-free segment of our lives. In fact, the “thorns” (see Genesis 3) that we must deal with should be seen as clues that our work, while good in itself, is not and cannot be the thing that will fulfill or satisfy us in an ultimate sense. Only God himself can do that.
  4. Another expectation that particularly younger workers need to temper is that they will find jobs that are largely satisfying early in their careers. This is not only because employers likely to be less impressed with your skills and experience than you are (meaning they may not hand over the responsibilities and compensation that you hope for). The fact is that most people in their initial working years don’t know a lot about either themselves or the vocation they’ve chosen. What they think they might enjoy often proves tedious or otherwise dissatisfying. One of my seminary professors noted that if we could find an initial job in which we were 50-60% satisfied we were doing very well. As we get older, most of us gradually get a better idea of what we’re really suited for, i.e., we grow in the wisdom of experience.
  5. The authors note that employees who feel connected to a higher purpose have a better work experience. The good news is that a biblical worldview can also help us better understand the value and meaning of almost any profession, whether one is the president of the United States or herding three-year-olds. Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with much of what the Bible teaches regarding work. That’s much more than anyone can cram into a blog post, but those interested in learning more could start with resources like the following:

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