Why do we work?

A long time ago I wrote a blog about what we get from work, as I was trying to make sense of the transition from employment to working for myself. I came up with this list (in no particular order):

  1. Financial Reward
  2. Connection
  3. Belonging
  4. Identity
  5. Status
  6. Structure
  7. Activity
  8. Information
  9. Feedback
  10. Purpose
  11. Opportunity

When we are looking for employment we tend to focus on a handful, namely Financial Reward, Status and Activity. The recruitment process pushes us in that direction. The key questions about any job are ‘What’s the salary?”, “What’s the position?” and “What will I be doing?”, after all. There may be some stuff about culture and purpose and all that ‘soft’ stuff but we tend to take that with a pinch of salt. We try to make a judgement about how the company ‘feels’ during the recruitment process but we have limited information to go on and, unless something sets off our alarm bells, we generally go ahead on the basis of the salary, status and job description. (Sometimes we take the job even when the alarm bells go off – which never ends well – so strongly are we conditioned to look at these three things).

However, what we really value from our job, from our work, is not really anything to do with those three things. What we really value is connection, belonging and purpose. Why these three? Well, they are our fundamental needs as human beings. We are wired for connection, we have an overwhelming need to belong and we are purpose-seeking beings. These needs have driven human behaviour and our success as a species since we first walked on the planet.

Realising that what we have been chasing is not what we need and value is a challenging realisation that causes existential angst and can lead to a mid-life crisis. It can cause us to question what we have been doing with our lives, what the point of it all has been and what we do now we have this realisation.

Organisations can also go through a sort of existential crisis too. After all, they are structured around Status, Financial Reward and Activity (especially command of people and resources) and this is embodied in their hierarchy and manifested in the Organisational Chart. It’s baked into what they are and how they operate. 

So why aren’t we structuring our organisations around what we really want, that is, Connection, Belonging and Purpose? What would that look like? How would it work? Could it even work? 

Well, the answer is yes, it can work and it does. There are many organisations that are doing exactly this. They are people-first organisations, organic in their structure, human in their focus, led by purpose rather than profit (but they make plenty of that too).

The question is not ‘Is it possible?”, the question is “Why aren’t more companies and organisations like this?”

The challenge is to make this type of organisation the mainstream and we can do that by focusing on the real reasons why we go to work, by focusing on connection, belonging and purpose.

Image by 8966388 on Pixabay

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