By Ruba Qaqish
Why we get out of bed in the morning and go to work every day is a question that has been explored by psychologists and social professionals over the years.
The first question to ask is how we perceive work. People fall into three categories:
- Those who consider work a way to make money (earn a living);
- Those who consider work a career to grow, make progress, get better, take more responsibility, and move up in the organization; and
- Those who consider work a calling; they know exactly how their work creates positive change in the lives of others. To them, work is an essential part of their lives that makes them happy.
The motivation to work differs among the three categories.
THE FIRST QUESTION TO ASK IS HOW WE PERCEIVE WORK.
Unfortunately, most employees belong to the first category, where work is only a job. They show up, do what they are told, soullessly, with one motivation: getting paid. The roots of this situation go back to the industrial revolution, when the idea was that people are lazy and want to do the bare minimum, and only to get paid. So manufacturing functions were broken down into repetitive tasks. The more times a task was completed, the greater the monetary reward.
One might think this ideology applies only to manufacturing jobs or only to the industrial revolution era. It does not. It is prevalent even in today’s professional, highly paid jobs, like teaching, medicine, and law, as well as in simpler, not-as-highly paid jobs, like janitorial and hair dressing services. Breaking down the day into job activities turns jobs into mere tasks, with the performers’ main objective to check as many boxes as possible. It sucks so much life and meaning out of work that workers end up forgetting why they chose that path in the first place (regardless of how much they are paid).
What might push employees out of task completion mode toward perceiving work as a calling is connecting with their end users – their successful students, healthy patients, and happy customers. This can be their reward, the thing that motivates them to come to work. They need to be reminded of it every day.
How employees see their work depends a lot on the company they work for, how their employer communicates with them, and how it repeatedly reminds them of exactly how their work makes a difference.
How can business leaders change the perception of work to become a calling? How can they keep their people motivated?
It is simple:
- Empower people to make decisions, trust them, and give them control. Autonomy makes people proud of what they do and there’s hardly anything more motivating than that.
- Invest in people and help them develop their skills.
- Ensure the company’s mission is clear to every member of the team. The more people are aware of how they are changing the world the more they’ll care.
It might be worthwhile asking (and answering) why you and your team come to work every day as a self-gauge of where you’re at in creating a culture of “callings.”
- “The way we think about work is broken,” Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz, Sept. 2014. https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_the_way_we_think_about_work_is_broken?language=en
- Barry Schwartz. Why We Work. TED Books/Simon & Schuster, 2015.
First published in the June 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.