Thursday, June 5, 2014

#164 - Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are we having fun yet? I hear that question fairly often at work and have asked it myself from time to time. Oddly enough, though, the question seems to invariably be asked when the answer is anticipated to be either a sarcastic “yes” or a definite “no.” Why is it that question never seems to get asked when the answer might really be “yes?”

A related question when it comes to the workplace might be what actually constitutes “fun” where work is concerned. I suspect a great many people are not having fun yet where their jobs are concerned. They are, as the band Loverboy put it in the 1980s, "Working For The Weekend." People lucky enough to work in jobs or fields they truly enjoy are likely a minority, although they may enjoy aspects of their jobs such as the ability to work from home, the short commute to work, the people they work with, the benefits, or perhaps some mixture of these.

Of course, all of this begs the question of job satisfaction and what it really means. For some, I imagine it means truly being engaged in their work and not being able to wait to go in to work each and every day. For others, it may well mean having work that is not too demanding (physically or mentally or both) that allows those people to maintain or enjoy a certain lifestyle, either because of the income from the job or the flexibility of the work schedule. For others, it is likely some combination of factors.

I suspect that for many of us the question of job satisfaction does not arise until we are already working in a position and have several months or years under our belts. For others, job satisfaction may not be something they think about until they feel it is “too late.” They may be years (or decades) into a line of work they no longer enjoy, if they ever did. Or they may be at an age where they feel they are “too old” to “start over.” Regardless, they may not feel able to change career path and may feel trapped in their current line of work, which I think most would agree is the antithesis of job satisfaction.

If, as I suspect, most people do not experience true job satisfaction, it then becomes a matter of whether one can find satisfaction through the lifestyle the job allows one to maintain. If you have a low-paying job that you do not enjoy, my condolences, as it is extremely likely you have a lifestyle you do not enjoy on top of a job you do not like. People in high-paying jobs may well have lifestyles they enjoy even if they do not particularly like the work. However, there are potential trade-offs there as well: pressure to keep a position in order to maintain a certain lifestyle, the possibility of increased stress, as well as other potential health risks.

Perhaps that is why so many “experts” stress the need to strike a balance between work and play. However, that can be very hard to achieve, especially when you consider that there is “work,” the kind that brings in an income, and there is “work,” the kind required to maintain a home – dishes, shopping, laundry, yard work, and so on. On the surface, that does not seem to leave much space or time for play. Unless you are one of those sick, twisted souls who actually thinks yard work is "fun."

I think some of our European brethren may have the right idea. Many in Europe enjoy four to six weeks of vacation a year – without having to be in a job for 20 years or more as in the U. S. People in Europe work, on average, fewer hours per year than do their American counterparts, and more jobs are part-time (but with benefits). At least one Swedish city is experimenting with shorter work days in hopes of creating a “happier, healthier, and cheaper” workforce. 

The idea of a shorter workweek also gets support in a 2013 book called “Time on Our Side” from the New Economics Foundation. One of the co-authors of that book and the Foundation’s Head of Social Policy argues that longer work hours are associated with decreased productivity and that part-time workers are actually more productive on an hour-by-hour basis.

Our American/Puritan work ethic dictates that we work longer and harder, so such ideas are usually dismissed out of hand. However, with the rising cost of living and of health care, coupled with what will likely be decreased Social Security benefits in the years to come, this may be an idea whose time is about to come. If that happens, we may or may not experience greater job satisfaction, but we could well experience increased satisfaction with our time away from work. Instead of everybody working for the weekend, we could end up working for a longer weekend. I’m all for that.

Are we having fun yet?

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