In 1974, legendary American writer Studs Terkel noted, “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread; for recognition as well as cash; for astonishment rather than torpor.”
While that may be true in the hearts of American employees, why is it that so many people get stuck in jobs they don’t like and working with people they don’t like just to earn enough money to pay the bills?
In his book, “Working,” Terkel admitted to having met what he called the “happy few” employees who truly enjoyed their job. They seemed to enjoy “a meaning to their work over and beyond the reward of the paycheck.”
Several years ago, Harvard Business Review (HBR) reported that having a sense of purpose on the job could almost be considered a type of currency. In fact, in 2011, the magazine noted “meaning was the new money for many workers.”
In 2018, the publication surveyed 2,285 employees working across 26 industries from entry-level workers to corporate-suite executives. Researchers were astonished to discover more than nine out of every 10 workers were willing to make less money over the course of their lifetimes in order to have greater meaning at work.
“Across age and salary groups, workers want meaningful work badly enough that they’re willing to pay for it,” HBR reported.
But, how much money would people be willing to give up just to have a job that gave them greater sense of purpose and meaning?
Believe it or not, survey respondents indicated, on average, they would be willing to give up 23% of their lifetime earnings to have a job that was always meaningful.
The article was published in November 2018, about a year and a half before COVID decimated the worldwide workforce, resulting in continued labor shortages across every industry. Today, employers find it extraordinarily difficult to hire qualified workers for the myriad of jobs open at their firms.
Did COVID reset worker psyche?
I can’t help but wonder if forcing employees to work from home rather than the office, and shutting down thousands of restaurants and retail stores, didn’t work to reset the psyche of employees to realize there was more to life than working for a company.
COVID helped people realize they can live relatively comfortable lives with less money than they thought they needed to survive. Perhaps, the great reluctance to return to jobs just for a paycheck combined with the Great Resignation of 2022, is giving wings to the desires HBR uncovered four years ago.
It could just be the social circles I find myself hanging around today, but it seems to me many men and women over 50, once freed from the “have-to” responsibilities of raising children, are running full speed toward greater purpose in the jobs and lives.
HBR discovered when staff members have an opportunity to put their specific skills and knowledge to work serving other people, whether it is customers or fellow employees, their jobs take on new meaning.
“Knowledge workers are also more likely to feel inspired by the vision their organizations are striving to achieve, and humbled by the opportunity to work in service to others,” the article reported.
“The old labor contract between employer and employee — the simple exchange of money for labor — has expired,” it added. “Taking its place is a new order in which people demand meaning from work, and in return give more deeply and freely to those organizations that provide it.
“They don’t merely hope for work to be meaningful, they expect it — and they’re willing to pay dearly to have it,” HBR explained.
If you’re over 50 and you don’t feel your job is providing a level of satisfaction by utilizing your unique talent, skills and life experiences to deliver value to the company, perhaps it’s time to ditch the job. There has never been a better time in history to venture out into self-employment to do what you want to do, with people you want to work alongside, when you want to work and from wherever you wish to work.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon at Unsplash.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.