Why do we work? Swarthmore College psychology professor Barry Schwartz explores that question in the TED book Why We Work. Mostly he wants to object to the notion that we work for material rewards alone. Put more precisely, he wants to change the fact that most people's primary motivation for work is material rewards.
I have frequently heard people say, "Find something you love, dedicate yourself to it, and don't worry about getting paid." Which is fine for some people, if they love something that actually pays. Love running? There are a few jobs out there, in retail, training, or publishing related to running. But people in those jobs are a tiny minority of people who love running. Love to sculpt? Good luck making money with that. Love playing video games? Dream on. So I was encouraged to see him acknowledge that "Ninety percent of adults spend have their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be."
This does not have to be a bad thing, though. It's not the jobs themselves that have to change. The marketplace creates a demand for the jobs performed, after all, or those jobs wouldn't exist. He wants to change the way the jobs are structured. "Just how important material incentives are to people will depend on how the human workplace is structured. And if we structure it in keeping with the false idea that people work only for pay, we'll create workplaces that make this false idea true."
Management science and workplace habits have put us in a "deep hole" of "misconceptions about human motivation and human nature." Schwartz wants to "foster workplaces in which challenge, engagement, meaning, and satisfaction are possible." That sounds great to me! Schwartz's message will primarily be for those in management, but he also emphasizes the role of the individual worker. Hairdressers and janitors can also "have a hand in creating a human nature that is worth living up to." Schwartz has given food for thought for that 90%, challenging all of us to shift perceptions and "seek higher ground."
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!