Unusual advice in tough economic times: Enjoy your job

If The Office teaches us anything, it’s that people don’t always like their jobs.

The reasons vary, but statistics show that most people fall into one of three groups. In a study done by University of Chicago Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the three main workplace complaints were lack of challenge and variety, conflicts with colleagues — particularly bosses — and too much pressure. Contrary to popular conception, salaries and material benefits were not the most pressing issues for working people.

Julie Vann | Daily Trojan

Julie Vann | Daily Trojan

It’s obvious that people aren’t getting everything out of their jobs. But why?

In his recent book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states that psychologists generally agree on the three primary factors that contribute to meaningful work: complexity, autonomy and a clear relationship between effort and reward.

Stripped of their psychological jargon, the concepts explain what most people need to function productively in the average workplace.

Complexity refers to work that is challenging, stimulating and demanding of a worker’s particular skills. Autonomy emerges when employees have sufficient input over how their work is controlled. A clear relationship between effort and reward simply means that a worker needs to be able to see the fruits of his labor.

Csikszentmihalyi’s study shows that the most common complaint — lack of complexity — demonstrates the need for a more stimulating workplace; a lack of challenge or variety disengages the worker from the tasks at hand and leaves his skills unused.

On the other hand, the workplace squabbles that so often lower morale are caused by a lack of autonomy. Excess pressure, another determinant of an unhappy camper, also relates to autonomy and the organization of work flow.

Regardless of Csikszentmihalvi’s findings, there’s not denying the fact that many US citizens are employed in jobs that aren’t particularly conducive to gleaning meaning from work. In an ever-pressing economic crisis, it’s hard to be picky about finding any job, much less one that complies with the three keys to workplace bliss.

However, taxing economic times only highlight the need for restructuring of individual jobs; not only is it possible to change the way jobs are designed in order to maximize their complexity, autonomy and effect-reward relationship within the confines of a growing economy, it is necessary for a vital workplace.

One study found that the lack of well-being in many occupations results in a 5-10 percent loss in the Gross National Product each year; this amount is significantly more than the economic losses due to the recession over the last year.

Perhaps in the shortterm, a massive restructuring of individual jobs would cause a decrease in productivity because of the mental and social adjustments needed to adapt to a new system of employment. But the benefits of making work stimulating for people would drastically increase productivity among employees.

Some jobs naturally follow this recipe for productivity. A university professor, for example, has the independence and authority to determine his curriculum, the challenge of educating a classroom of students who’d most likely rather be on Youtube and the ultimate reward of enriching young minds with information not readily found on Wikipedia.

The teaching profession is not the only such rewarding job, however. Cooks, engineers, taxi drivers, car mechanics — all of these jobs have the potential to be meaningful, as long as they provide challenges and allow for independence.

The main problem in the US workforce is that there are a large number of employments that don’t function this way. A factory worker might work 40 hours a week, where his primary task is feeding metal plates into a machine. In this kind of job, there is neither complexity, autonomy nor a relationship between effort and reward — there is only a surplus of free metal plates.

This kind of science is not merely of value to the sociologist or policymaker, but to every college student searching for a job or trying to discern a career path. During school and after graduation, surviving financially should be a primary concern, especially in today’s inauspicious job market.

But like any life-defining decision, choosing a major and an occupation has long-term consequences — which will last well beyond the current economic crisis.

Students should think hard about what vocation to choose. Would this job encourage autonomy, complexity and a clear relationship between effort and reward? Ultimately, happy workers help the economy.

Max Hoiland is a senior majoring in cinema-television critical studies.

12 replies
  1. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    This is depressing. Why any editor would feel it’s their prerogative to reorder and rewrite anything, let along an OPINION piece, and without even talking to the writer, is beyond me. I am glad I’ve graduated already, I don’t have to feel as embarrassed to call the Daily Trojan my school’s paper. Why do the editors even have writers in the first place, when they clearly think they themselves can do vastly better?

    And I agree with Eric, I doubt Daily Trojan policy applies when the writer has been disrespected to such a great degree as this, and he feels when reading the article that he can’t even claim his work as his own anymore.

  2. Gonzo
    Gonzo says:

    It’s such a shame that these editors of DT tend to cut out the integrity of the writer. This is an OPINION section.
    Shame you twice.

  3. Eric
    Eric says:

    I used to work for the Daily Trojan and it appears that the editing has not improved. Such a shame. When the author puts in a great deal of time and effort in crafting a piece his words and ideas should be respected. Unfortunately it seems that the tendency of the editors is to rewrite (i.e. add content) rather than to actually edit. It seems disrespectful to drastically change a piece without contacting the author. Shame on you

    “…it is Daily Trojan policy for writers to not post comments on their work, please stop.”

    It doesn’t seem like it is “his” work…

  4. Keaton Gray
    Keaton Gray says:

    Hello readers and writer,

    Let’s talk about what happened and solve the issue properly. As the public editor (that means your representative, readers, not someone who controls editorial content) here, I hope you will shoot me an e-mail so we can talk, Max. Readers, if you’re so inclined, I would very much like to hear more from you after I have had a chance to speak with the editors involved in the changes made here. To any and all, I am always available at publiceditor@dailytrojan.com. Max, it is Daily Trojan policy for writers to not post comments on their work, please stop.


  5. Jen
    Jen says:

    Awful title as well….

    The title of the article has no bearing on what the author is trying to say. Rule #1: If you are going to add a title you should at least read the piece, and if you are too stupid to understand the authors point maybe a job in editing isn’t such a great idea.

  6. Jen
    Jen says:

    I have to agree with Max here. The fact that the DT feels that it has to add a cheesy “hook” is insulting to the intelligence of the readers. Worse yet, it seems that the author doesn’t even watch the show and never would have considered using such a meaningless example. This blatant and unnecessary rewriting is entirely unprofessional and the DT should apologize to the victim.

  7. Nate
    Nate says:

    I find it funny that they changed the first sentence to be “If The Office teaches us anything, it’s that people don’t always like their jobs,” because that’s a pretty terrible way to start an article.

  8. Sung
    Sung says:

    If what the writer of this article is stating is entirely true, I’m not sure I understand why the editor(s) needed to alter the original intent of the writer. This especially being an opinion piece, I’m don’t see any justification for this act. Maybe the editor(s) can enlighten us on why they have taken such action.

  9. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Someone did not do their research. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi left the University of Chicago over eight years ago. He is now the Director of the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA.

  10. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself Matt. Well said. Speaking of “second-hand trash” as Matt has mentioned, I feel that it is MORE THAN BEFITTING to leave some of my own second-hand trash on this website. To the editor(s), as a token for your intelligently crafted contributions to this otherwise beautifully written article, I will be more than happy to leave a big bag of SHIT in front of your doorstep. Thank you.

  11. Matt
    Matt says:

    I find it appalling that the editor(s) of this article found the need to transform the writer’s work into one of their own. Since when did writers invest their faith in editors to have their work ravaged, disfigured by the hands of others?

    It’s a shame to find that the writer knows of these damages only AFTER the article is published for the world to see. It’s even more of an insult that the editors appear to think they know what the writer is trying to say, and insert snippets of secondhand trash that are so obvious it’s sad.

    I sincerely hope the editor(s) of this article issue an official apology to the writer and explain to the readers why it is that the writer’s work was so conspicuously ruined. I further hope that the editor(s) have some consideration for the works of others by preserving them in their truest forms.

    Editing does not entail infringing on the authenticity of another person’s work.

    Don’t put words in another person’s mouth.

Comments are closed.