Post No.: 0164
At work, there are many things that are critical for one’s furry sense of well-being besides just the size of one’s salary and any material fringe benefits. One can appreciate that not everyone can easily freely choose what work they can get, but key ingredients for a happier work life include – a sense of autonomy, purpose, competence and making valuable contributions to others and to the bigger picture of the organisation/group, work that is personally meaningful and reflects or is aligned with one’s core values, a deep sense of engagement (which can be fostered via fun and creativity, the ownership of one’s daily schedule and tasks, professional growth, and having room for downtime rather than constantly being available), resilience (the ability to adapt to and learn from setbacks, which can be fostered via mindfulness practices, being able to successfully detach from work when it’s not a work hour and doing other things or simply resting), mutual dignity and respect with compassion and conflicts that are managed constructively, and the recognition and celebration of our progresses/wins.
Disengagement, boredom, a lack of autonomy, being ignored, feeling useless, not getting anywhere, endless stress, not being able to switch off from work when one wants or needs to, and the cynicism of one’s work, company and/or colleagues, are conversely not ideal.
Autonomy is a major key to happiness. One of our most basic fears is a loss of freedom or being held in captivity. It’s sometimes not the amount of work but the lack of some autonomy or say in how the work is done that stresses people out. As long as you genuinely have enough to live a healthy life, plus a little bit more for saving for the unexpected, you’d be better off not taking on that overtime too often because the extra income isn’t as good as not taking any more orders from another person (e.g. your employer, your customers) for the rest of the day. If you truly like what you do for work that it doesn’t really feel like work then you are a lucky person! But if you only enjoy it up to a point then ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’ – don’t make work life rule your entire life when it’s only a part of your life.
Commuting far, even for a higher paid job, usually decreases happiness. Conversely, choosing a personally meaningful job despite accepting a lower salary tends to increase both happiness and life satisfaction. So if you have the opportunity, ability and courage – find a more enjoyable job or become your own boss, even if it pays less. The real scorecard in life is not one’s bank balance but one’s happiness and health. Happiness and health requires securing some resources but there are opportunity costs and the law of diminishing marginal returns – at some point, earning a little bit more money isn’t worth the time given up that could be otherwise spent with one’s family and friends or doing something else one enjoys. We might count on only doing these things when we retire but things might scupper that plan. Woof.
And if you enter a cycle of ‘I need an expensive holiday to decompress because this amount of work makes me feel miserable and the hours suck’ but then ‘to pay for this holiday I must work overtime in this miserable job’ then just think about how ludicrous that logic is i.e. one works until chronically stressed to afford a fancy holiday (that can only last for a weekend each time), but one needs a fancy holiday because one works too much(!) It’s like needing a cigarette to relieve the cravings of a nicotine addiction that was caused and is perpetuated by smoking itself(!) Your supposed cure or treatment is trying to undo something that is self-inflicted, thus one is exacerbating and perpetuating a problem for oneself in a vicious cycle.
If you’re thinking of committing to paying off investments you can barely afford (e.g. a flashy car bought on credit or a large house on a pricey mortgage) then you shouldn’t over-stretch your finances just for ‘that little bit more luxury’. The stress of unmanageable debt if one fails to keep up with loan repayments is bad for one’s mental and physical health and mood. There can also be a sense of ‘fewer stuff, fewer problems’ too (e.g. fewer cars or properties to worry about, maintain and keep secure, which takes extra time and money itself). Post No.: 0158 examines how we cannot always buy our way to greater levels of happiness.
It’s really about the balance between what one earns and what one spends that creates one’s overall monetary wealth – it’s understandable that not every job allows flexible working hours, but would you rather work less and therefore be less stressed yet nonetheless end up with the same level of nourishment and fulfilment, or in some cases even the exact same material stuff, at the end of the day because, although you’re earning less, you’re wasting less and/or saving more by being a savvier consumer (e.g. by shopping around for the best deals, being less frivolous with one’s money)? That time saved from working less could again be spent elsewhere too. Some people earn a lot but still don’t seem to have enough at the end of the month because they needlessly waste too much food, petrol/diesel, gas, electricity, water (which is all bad for the environment too, even if one has fully paid the shop or supplier for it) and other stuff that barely or never actually gets used but just rapidly depreciates in value once bought.
People should really aim to be productive rather than busy. In some studies, shorter working hours (e.g. 6 instead of 8 or more hours per work day) correlate with higher levels of happiness, as well as higher productivity levels – this is possibly due to optimum working and rest durations, as well as happier workers naturally tending to be more productive. So working longer hours doesn’t necessarily equate to greater productivity e.g. when tired, more mistakes or poor decisions are made, we work at a reduced pace, we tend to feel worse and we more likely forget what we’ve just learnt. Some companies are now realising this. Having said that, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ optimum number of working hours for everyone.
People should really be paid according to the amount of work they get done rather than how long they work for, but when it’s hard to quantify or compare a person’s work with another’s, the proxy used is the time spent on it. And culturally, many people believe that ‘working long hours reliably equals working hard equals success’. Working hard does more reliably equal success, but working long hours doesn’t reliably equal working hard – it’s working smart that’s more important.
Moreover, it’s the presented image of being seen to be ‘working long hours’, of ‘seeming busier’ and of ‘suffering more than others’ that is taken to be something to ‘brag’ about to competing workplace colleagues or to show to one’s clients or bosses, as if some kind of ‘badge of honour’, even though marginal efficiency decreases. It’s like the conspicuous consumption of material possessions but a conspicuous work ethic – where both aim to (superficially) present a certain desired public image of oneself. But bosses should be wiser than being fooled by staff ‘looking like’ they’re working hard when actually their productivity is lower than someone who seems ‘lazier’ (or just works more efficiently or faster). Looking like something is not the same thing as being that something (this public reputation management is manipulated in other contexts like on social media too – curating one’s profile to present a picture that one thinks others want to see).
‘Presenteeism’ is the term used when employees stay at work for more hours than needed and/or attend work even though they’re not well and therefore not productive. This is counterproductive in the long-term since productivity will not improve for pushing ahead despite illness, and it’ll only exacerbate the problem of workplace exhaustion. This is partly a symptom of job insecurity because employees don’t want to be seen as slacking and want to present the perception of being hardworking and irreplaceable (e.g. by not leaving work for the day until after one’s boss has, even though one’s work has been done). Some people cannot afford to take any time off work. Another reason is because mental health issues, in particular, are typically ‘invisible’ from the outside hence sufferers think they’ll not receive much sympathy from their employers or colleagues if they ask for some time to rest and recover. Once again, employers should be wiser about perceptions, as well as care for their employees when they open up or are suspected of having mental health difficulties, whether it’s because of the work itself or something outside of work, such as bereavement. Being a workaholic is not always a good thing – in fact, anything with the suffix ‘-aholic’ connotes an addiction and is therefore not healthy at all.
Describing oneself as chronically ‘too busy’ is sometimes a sign of a fuzzy failure of life planning. Too hot, too cold, even too healthy – the language of too much of anything indicates a deviation from the optimal quantity. And there also seems to be little correlation between those who panic, worry or complain a lot about their own busyness and those who actually get stuff done i.e. some people talk a lot about what they’re going to do or need to do, and some people just quietly and in an organised and efficient manner get it done! Indeed, being more organised allows one to get the exact same stuff done but with less fuss, and likely means one will make fewer mistakes that’ll need correcting with added work too.
You’re a living, conscious being – not a cog. In the Venn diagram of life, ‘work’ is just a minority subset inside the superset of ‘life’ – not everything one does in life must therefore serve one’s occupation. This also highlights that only a minority subset of life should therefore be approached with market as opposed to social norms. This is the difference between treating people as clients (market norms) and treating people as friends (social norms) i.e. more of your life should be spent treating people as potential friends and allies than as potential customers or competitors.
So it’s all arguably fine if one truly loves one’s work (and is therefore not really doing it for the money but just so happens to be doing an enjoyable thing that pays) and maybe also has no other interests in life – but many people chase that extra money to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ but would rather be doing something else instead at least some of that time, such as spending more time with their young family. This is when it might become myopic and regretful in future hindsight. If you’re financially rich but miserable, grumpy and unwell then your priorities went wrong somewhere. Most people will agree, not just in theory but also in practice, that a relatively slower life is a less stressful and therefore more happy life.
Working industriously is indeed commendable – but only up to a point. You might focus so uncompromisingly on work that you virtually spend no quality time with your family, you displace your work stresses out on your family, you blame it on them because you claim that ‘I’m doing it for the sake of my children’, and then you unexpectedly die from lung cancer as you approach your retirement.
Woof. In this high-paced world where it seems like you cannot stop otherwise you’ll fall behind, it’s important to sometimes just stop and be present, and take in the sights, sounds, smells, temperature, etc. of the moment. We’ve got to often pause and ask ‘what am I really living for?’