Work Has a Serious PR Problem

I wonder when work first became a “four-letter word.” When did people start hating their jobs? Was it one of the first hunters, who didn’t really like hunting but had no choice, it was hunt or go hungry? Whoever was first, they certainly started a trend because today it’s O.K. to hate our work.

Whoever started it — hunter or not — this “work sucks” thing is a message that works. They should have trademarked it. Have you seen the memes? In my father’s day, it was “I’d rather be fishing” bumper stickers. Now they’re a little darker. The one I find especially amusing is, “Oh you hate your job? There’s a support group for that. It’s called everybody, and they meet at the bar.”

And sure, that’s good fun, but it’s one of my pet peeves that people treat their work like it doesn’t matter like it isn’t really a part of their life.

Most people don’t do anything more than they do their work, so when people treat their work like it’s this fake thing, I want to understand why they wouldn’t figure out a better way to spend all that time.

And I know that this is kind of a judge-y perspective because I like work. Not just what I do now, but I like to work. I like to do things and see them get done. I always have. Even more than that, I believe work can make your life better. I think having a job that you really like and doing valuable things with other people who make you better at your work is a pretty good way to spend your day.

This doesn’t mean I’ve always loved my job. I haven’t always loved my job, but when that was the case, it was just a sign to me that something was wrong and that it was time to either fix my job — which I did sometimes — or change jobs or careers, which I did other times. It’s just unimaginable that I would ever go to a place five days a week that I don’t really care about, to do something that I don’t enjoy doing. I know that makes me pretty lucky.

One of the worst parts of this industrial disease is how often it creates in people a tendency to make the people at work fake people who don’t really matter. If it’s fake work, why not fake people. And what I mean by “fake people” is that we treat people at work who we don’t like, or who don’t agree with us, or who we don’t need, like they don’t matter. If you think that this doesn’t really happen, let me ask you this: how long it has been since someone said, “I don’t have to like the people I work with, I just have to be able to work with them.”?

And I think having a job you hate is actually a serious wellness issue, and that maybe your insurance should pay for you to be coached by one of our career advisors. You can eat at much kale as you want at your stand-up treadmill-desk, and I’ll bet you’re still going to die early because of the stress and because of all of the hate in your heart if going to work is so odious for you.

Somewhere along the way work got a really bad rep, and now this PR problem has reached epidemic proportions. We’ve made it easy to hate our work. You fit in if you hate your work. And that’s not an exaggeration; most people don’t find their work engaging, and I think we should change that. I think we should encourage our friends and loved ones to find a way to get more out of their work day. Re-work that relationship with that co-worker or boss who drives you crazy. Get up the courage to ask why you weren’t put on that project. Ask what you have to do in order to get a raise in the next cycle.

If you’ve been reading these columns, you know we’re interested in what makes people happy at work and why whatever that is seems to be missing in so many people’s lives.

I know, I know; there are bad bosses, and we all need money to pay for that stuff we need money for. Work isn’t going to be perfect for everyone, but I want to try to make it good for everyone. I’m willing to work pretty hard for that.

Imagine a world in which everyone comes home from a hard day’s work and feels like it was an important part of their day. Like they did something worthwhile. Like they worked with cool people and solved complicated problems or built things they were proud of. Otherwise they have to join everyone at the support group at the bar at 5 o’clock, and I’m just not sure there are enough bars.

 

John Philbin

John is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life who, if he wasn't helping people with their careers, would consider himself a ghost researcher. His claim to fame is that he is a champion race walker (he actually came in second place).

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