Thursday, July 19, 2007

Do You Hate Work?

When did work become a four letter word? (You know what I mean) Complaining about work is almost a competitive sport. People complain about housework, homework, work-work; we even relegate exercise to the same category so we can complain about our workout.

We sound like a society that hates work. A USA Today poll in 2006 related that 64% of those surveyed hated their jobs. That isn't surprising considering we have a mental model in this country that we are supposed to "get through" our work so we can relax. Think about it, we have "Hump day" (Wednesday) "So Happy It's Thursday, and TGIF, thank God it's Friday. Yet the reality is that we spend more time at work than almost any other activity. So, how can we become great if we don't want to work?

In his book Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses his research on where and when people experience "flow" (optimal experience) in their life. Surprisingly to most of us, flow is experienced more at work than at leisure. Why? Because we experience flow when we are pushed; when we have to think, or react, or get mentally stretched beyond where we have been before. We are tired, but elated. Yet even Mihaly acknowledges that his subsequent survey of individuals (even those who knew they had more flow experiences at work) uncovered that people still would rather have leisure over work. That attitude is rather obvious in many manufacturing, retail, and even hospitality businesses. Interacting with working people often is like negotiating a mine field of anger; they'd rather be home in front of the TV.

Mihaly also brings up an interesting point regarding our attitude toward work. He writes "As punishment for his ambition, Adam was sentenced by the Lord to work the earth with the sweat of his brow. The passage of Genesis (3:17) that relates this event reflects the way most cultures, and especially those that have reached the complexity of 'civilization,' conceive of work - as a curse to be avoided at all costs." (pg. 144) Perhaps this Judeo-Christian concept has tempered the enjoyment we might have around work.

God forbid if you really like (or even love) your work. There is nothing to talk about around the water cooler. You are seen as lucky, special, or weird. This reaction is natural because if you love your job then the other person can also. Maybe they don't want to.

Bringing life into work and work into life opens the possibility of flow experiences and creates the more important possibility we may do something great. Striving for something, straining to accomplish it, pouring out your sweat is what makes great things happen. And you know what, it feels good. Maybe we can save the word "work." Maybe it's good for something.