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Is work even supposed to be fun?

We may be trying to get too much out of our jobs

By Brian Kreissl

I firmly believe there’s a lot of value in hard work and a sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done. I personally don’t think our spare time and leisure activities are nearly as enjoyable if we don’t feel we have somehow “earned” a right to rest, relaxation and the pursuit of enjoyable activities.

If I have only half-heartedly worked at something and it came a little too easily to me or I didn’t feel like I had put in an honest day’s work, I don’t really feel like I have truly worked hard and played hard — which I believe is one of the keys to a happy and successful life.

But that’s not to say work itself can never be fun or enjoyable or it isn’t possible to combine work with pleasure. Having work that is interesting, fulfilling and challenging goes a long way towards making our lives complete.

After all, we spend so much time at work that there’s little point in doing something that makes us miserable. There’s nothing worse than having that feeling of intense dread in the pit of our stomachs on a Sunday night in anticipation of the upcoming work week.

Doing work you hate, having to compromise your ethics and values or dealing with workplace bullies, unreasonable demands or a poisoned work environment can make the thought of going into work result in physical pain and discomfort. However, if you are hardworking and ambitious, working in a country club atmosphere where few demands are placed on you and you aren’t being held accountable for your performance likely won’t engage you either.

Employee engagement

We in the HR community talk a lot about employee engagement. While there are many definitions of the term, I tend to refer to employee engagement as being motivation plus job and organizational satisfaction plus a belief in the work people are doing plus a willingness to put forward discretionary effort in the furtherance of organizational goals and objectives.

The goal is to have employees who are so engaged they almost forget they are doing work. Several commentators have referred to people who are in this state of mind as being in “the zone.”

But just because we’re engaged and enjoying our work doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be “fun.” While some people are lucky enough to have jobs that are truly fun, and I do believe it is worthwhile to incorporate some enjoyable activities into the workday now and then, we may actually be causing a certain level of disengagement by suggesting work should be fun and exciting all the time. As a result, some people may be looking for a certain level of fulfillment from their work that’s unrealistic or even impossible to achieve.

Doing what you love

We often hear the cliché that we should “do what you love and the money will follow,” or “choose a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” While both versions of that proverb make a lot of sense, I fear some people may be taking it a little too literally these days.

Some types of activities simply don’t translate into viable career options. Even if they do, for many people such activities make more sense to keep as hobbies (in a previous post, I used the example of cooking because even though I enjoy cooking, I couldn’t see making a career out of it).

Work is tremendously important to our health, wealth, self-esteem, wellbeing and even our identities as individuals. Because of that, it makes sense to do something stimulating and enjoyable that brings personal satisfaction. Many people also want to do work that has a certain level of prestige.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe our identities should be entirely wrapped up in what we do for a living. As a society, we may actually be trying to obtain too much fulfillment from our work.

I also think it’s important not to give young people the wrong idea about their careers. While it is important to choose something interesting that matches our talents, it’s also important to be realistic and choose something that pays reasonably well and has some level of demand in the job market.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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