I’ve been noticing a Slate article making the rounds on Facebook called “In the Name of Love – Elites embrace the ‘do what you love’ mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers.” The article suggests that “do what you love” is something only said by privileged folks who actually get a choice in their employment, and for those whose jobs primarily finance their lives, that ideal is hurtful. She says, “Elevating certain types of professions to something worthy of love necessarily denigrates the labor of those who do unglamorous work that keeps society functioning.” Her article goes into more detail on the affects of such thinking and she ultimately suggests we should think of all work as work, not an act of love, so that we can put necessary boundaries around it and have plenty of time for what’s really important like family, recreation, etc. (which in her world necessarily lives outside of the confines of “work”).
She is firm in her belief that “do what you love” is an attitude toward work only afforded by a very few. Those who are in a position to go for a job that they love are likely unbounded by financial restraints or are else more readily given opportunities that lead to their dream job because of their privilege. It’s rather curious to me, however, that she never questions if it is our own cultural assumptions about work that are what is causing this divide between those who can love what they do and those who slog through their days just to earn a few dollars. Is it possible this is not a Universal Truth about Work but instead a systemic issue?
Why can’t we all love what we do?
I’m suggesting there is a way to rethink work, to rethink job design, and to rethink community that will leave us all able to find fulfillment in what we do and to love our work. I’m not talking about automating or getting rid of all the crap jobs. I’m not talking about doing some really unpleasant work all day in a blissful state of denial. I’m talking about reimagining the lens we look through as a culture to see work as an opportunity for connection, service, and use of individual skill regardless of the actual occupation.
I first thought about this when I read Buddhist Economics last year, which is the basis for much of my thinking. I’m also in the middle of Charles Eisenstein’s The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible which would have me believe that reimagining the story of work as a story of interbeing is exactly what is needed.
What if we respected work as an opportunity to be part of a team, serving a whole larger than ourselves, not just an opportunity to earn money or do something personally fulfilling? And what if employers embraced this ethos too and designed jobs so that every employee felt they were an important member of a team? What if team work was intentionally designed into every job? What if each job incorporated employees needs, skills, and desires, not just what the company needed done? What if your employer made it clear the work you did was important and valued no matter what you did at the company? What if your office was designed to be a humane and beautiful space you wanted to go to each day? Perhaps your work place would start feeling more like a community you were happy to support, and your job would start feeling like important and fulfilling work, no matter your actual occupation.
For example, I can think of several jobs right now that would be hard for me to do happily under our current system. Data entry is pretty tedious and boring to me personally. Some people might be able to find fulfillment in data entry, but I would not “love” a data entry job. I would find it hard to sit in front of a computer all day, entering information that I had no connection to, getting passed over by the higher-ups because my job took zero appreciable skill to perform. But I can imagine making it workable by rethinking the job.
The first step would be making sure the work environment was comfortable and inspiring, which includes whatever I would need to be comfortable doing all that computer work (yoga break? standing desk? projector instead of a monitor? surrounded by plants? dogs in the office?) and also a really fun and friendly set of colleagues. The second step would be making sure I understood how my work affected the rest of the company and our processes. The third step would be including as much teamwork as possible into the role – perhaps someone could read me the data to enter and then we could take turns between reading and typing. The fourth step would be to make sure that I felt valued for the work I was contributing. And I think the fifth step would be, making sure my other unique skills and talents were being used in service to my work, even if not in my specific role. I could imagine working for a company that asked me to do that data entry for 75% of my time with them, and then asked me to design another task or tasks that I would really enjoy doing for the company the other 25% of the time. I would probably rotate between making office decorations, baking something tasty to share, improving the process or flow of my work, or leading a daily dance break.
I can imagine doing this with every unpleasant job I can think of. Making tweaks in a job or environment until instead of slogging through something miserable, the job becomes working happily with a team of encouraging people to get important things done that the community (company, neighborhood, nation, earth – there are many communities to serve here) needs.
There are so many ways we can reimagine work to make it more fulfilling for all workers and communities. Encouraging people to bring their unique skills and enjoyment to the workplace as part of their paid employment and a real emphasis on teamwork along with acknowledgement of the importance of all work and how it fits into the greater community would go such a long way to creating work environments that felt like human teams where we could all “love what we do.”
What are other ways to encourage us all to feel fulfilled by what we do each day?