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VOL. 39 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 25, 2015

Would you keep going to work if you didn’t have to?

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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It’s a sad fact of life: Your boss expects you to work.

Darn it, he won’t give you a check for nothing. She expects you to show up, get things done and hit your goals. You have a clock to punch and clients to please. It’s your job. But what if you didn’t have to work? Would you, anyhow? Read the new book “Why We Work” by Barry Schwartz, and your answer might change.

Just two years ago, a world-wide Gallup poll indicated a sobering statistic: 25 million workers in almost 190 countries were asked if they felt engaged at their jobs. Nearly 90 percent indicated they “spend half their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be.”

So why do the other 10 percent love their jobs?

Says Schwartz, the difference comes in their perceptions…

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a man named Adam Smith convinced businessmen that workers really worked for pay, “nothing more and nothing less.” It didn’t, therefore, matter how the job was structured or what the task was; the more repetitive and simple, the better. As long as work was done and workers got paychecks, he claimed, everybody was happy.

Why We Work: A TED Original

by Barry Schwartz

c.2015, TED Books

$16.99

100 pages

Not so, Schwartz says. Modern research shows people perceive their jobs in one of three ways:

  • As a job (work with “little discretion” and minimal experience)
  • As a career (with a clear path and set advancement)
  • As a calling (high engagement). The latter perception is what employees value and employers should strive to achieve.

That can be done by allowing employees more autonomy at work and the ability to alter tasks commonsensically, which Schwartz says is called “job crafting.”

That, plus a bit of challenge, variety, and loosened supervision leads to employees who believe their jobs make a difference. For them, material incentives are there, but seem to be secondary to the joy brought by involvement in a task.

And how does this benefit an employer? Schwartz says that retention, employee and customer loyalty, and higher profits result from having engaged workers. Best of all, it “needn’t take a lot” to achieve that at any workplace.

Do you control your business? That’s one question to ask yourself before reading “Why We Work,” because you won’t quite want to when you’re done.

Statistics don’t lie, but why rely only on them? Schwartz also presents anecdotal evidence in this book version of his TED talk, along with examples of what happens when businesses disregard their worker’s innate needs and overreact by downsizing or cutting productivity.

Packed into 100 pages, that’s a lot to digest and it made my thoughts race as I was reading.

Yes, there are surprises in this book, along with practicality presented freshly.

I don’t necessarily think this is a top-down book; workers in the trenches might find some inspiration here, too.

If that’s what you need to make work better, then grab “Why We Work” and check it out.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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