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iOn the Contrary-i Why We Work

November 7, 2002
Related Topics: Featured Article
My 12-year-old niece, Taylor, thinks I’m way cooler than her mom because Iknow everything there is to know about everything. The other day, in her questto take advantage of my vast knowledge, she asked: "Auntie Shari, why dopeople like to work?"

Immediately, I was suspicious. "Like to work, dear heart? Who’s beenfilling your pretty young head with such thoughts?"

"Well," she replied, "every now and then I hear grown-ups say thingslike ‘I had a great day at work.’ What makes work great? I thought becauseit was called work it wasn’t supposed to be fun."

And that’s when I realized what an opportunity I had. I could talk toTaylor about fancy titles and fat bonuses and fashionable offices and the otherthings that are supposed to make work great. Instead, I chose to tell her aboutthe many other reasons why people go to work each day and find it enjoyable.

What I told her was this:

"We work because we like the inky smell inside a new box of business cardsprinted with our name and title.

"We work because we like giving presentations that provide an excuse to buythe black DKNY suit with the leather collar before it goes on sale.

"We work for the satisfaction of helping someone less experienced learn howto close a sale or write a brief or transfer an elderly patient from one bed toanother.

"We work because we enjoy going to conventions and wearing plastic namebadges that show we’re part of professions we care about. We work because welike going to conventions and accumulating free mugs and Koosh balls andkey-hiding rocks in the Expo hall. We work because we like going to conventionsand sneaking out for lunch with friends we see only once or twice a year.

"We work to make our parents proud, even if we’re 42 and our parents havealready told us a gazillion times how proud they are.

"We work to make our kids proud, if not today, then someday when they’reold enough to understand we’re not total geeks.

We work for those Sally Field moments when we realize that our boss and coworkers and clients like us. They really, really like us.

"We work for those Sally Field moments when we realize that our boss andcoworkers and clients like us. They really, really like us.

"I don’t think we work because we like getting up at 6 a.m., grabbing abreakfast bar, and putting on makeup while stuck in rush-hour traffic. But we dolike having someplace to go every day, and whenever we forget that, we talk toretired people who are wistful for the days when they were a part of things.

"We work because we like going into an office we’ve made all our own withcolor photos, a Zen rock garden, and a yellow stuffed Tweety Bird that says, "Yoo-hoo,poody cat," when you hit its fuzzy little head.

"We work because there’s nothing cooler than checking e-mail in themorning and finding a note from someone we last saw at a Bee Gees concert in1978.

"We work for those moments when people we’ve never met compliment us onour work.

"We work for the thrill of beating a deadline everyone thought wasimpossible.

"We work because we like becoming experts in subjects that other people don’tknow about. Things like how to write an annual report, or program a computer, ordistinguish between a defined-benefit and a defined-contribution plan."

"What’s a defined-contribution plan?" Taylor asked.

"It’s something HR professionals understand that other people don’t."I went on with my list.

"You see, Taylor, we don’t go to work because we like office politics orstress or having to refill the coffeepot every morning because no one else will.We go to work because we’ve learned how to get a smile out of Ed in themailroom, or because Kyndra the receptionist laughs at our jokes, or because we’velearned something titillating about Myra in finance and she doesn’t know thatwe know.

"We work because every single good friend we’ve made over the last 20years has come about through work associations.

"We work in order to feel completely justified watching football all daySunday even though it’s 70 degrees outside and the dog needs a walk.

"Most of all, we work because every one of us, in some way, believes thatour work is important to others."

Taylor looked up at me, her face gleaming with adoration. "You mean to tellme that people don’t work simply because they want to make more money for Microsoft or Procter & Gamble or Wal-Mart?" she asked.

I smiled at her, thinking how much she was becoming like her favorite aunt."Some people do," I responded, "because it provides a feeling ofaccomplishment."

Taylor thought about this for a moment. "But based on what you said, itseems that people work for other, more personal reasons--reasons likefriendship and accomplishment and affiliation and ownership. It seems to me thatpeople work to fulfill their own needs first and the company’s needs second."My smile grew. I obviously had a prodigy on my hands. Taylor continued: "Maybeif more companies understood what makes work fun for people they would be ableto create more fulfilling--and more profitable--workplaces."

"Sounds good to me," I responded.

"But wait, I have one more question. What’s an HR professional?"

"They are the people who understand how to create the kind of workplacesthat people think are great."

"Sounds like a big job," Taylor said.

"It is, sweetheart. It truly is."

Workforce, November 2002, pp. 20-22 -- Subscribe Now!

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