Day 100: What makes us feel good about our work?

Philosopher Adam Smith spoke about the wealth of a nation and mankind’s drive for efficiency, one of the major factors leading to success in the industrial revolution. In today’s knowledge economy, Dan Ariely argues that meaning is more important than efficiency and provides experimental results which strengthen his case.

The common assumption is that money is the most important factor when choosing a job. Investment bankers are rewarded in bonuses, luxury shops dominate the CBDs of most major cities. But if work leads to more money and money equals happiness, then why do people climb mountains? As Ariely points out, the push to deal with frostbite, cold and misery points to a need for challenge and motivation.

Ariely spoke at a software company in Seattle a few months prior to this talk. 200 workers had been involved in a project which was cancelled after months of work. Almost all of them felt depressed and began to come into work later and leave earlier. It turns out it wouldn’t have taken much to improve their motivation. Amongst their suggestions were that the CEO could have presented their ideas to the company or worked with them to see if they could be incorporated into a different department. Finding the meaning in work done is certainly hugely important.

The second variable which can increase job satisfaction is hard work. Surprisingly, when cake mixes were introduced, consumers hated them. All they had to do was add water and put the mix into the oven, taking any personal work out of the task. Responding to this, companies removed the egg and milk from the cake mix and there was a marked increase in sales as the buyer still had to do some measuring and mixing.

Another condition is ownership. Why do we value our children above others? Builders will also see their own creations differently to how others do.

In today’s labour world, motivation equals not only payment but also meaning, creation, challenge, ownership, identity and pride. The philosophies of Karl Marx are finally overtaking those of Adam Smith.

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