Even Elites and Professionals are Unhappy with their Professional Lives

Charles Duhigg, a Harvard educated, Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist, has described how shocked he was to find out, fifteen years later, that a majority of his former Harvard Business School classmates found no fulfilment in their jobs. “Harvard M.B.A. seemed like a winning lottery ticket, a gilded highway to world-changing influence, fantastic wealth and a lifetime of deeply meaningful work." He wrote, "So it came as a bit of a shock, when I attended my 15th reunion last summer, to learn how many of my former classmates weren’t overjoyed by their professional lives.”

Writing for the New York Times, Duhigg says even professionals such as doctors and lawyers who are often envied for their fat paychecks, have also shown some level of discontent with their jobs. The reason for this rising discontent is said to be because many people have had to work in toxic environments. The writer says “I began reviewing, the answer comes down to oppressive hours, political infighting, increased competition sparked by globalization, an ‘always-on culture’ bred by the internet — but also something that’s hard for these professionals to put their finger on, an underlying sense that their work isn’t worth the gruelling effort they’re putting into it.”

This rise in job dissatisfaction is not supposed to arise seeing as corporations now have access to a great amount of scientific research about how to improve jobs and workplaces. “We have so much evidence about what people need,” says Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, quoted in NY Times.

To provide job satisfaction, a workplace has to offer basic financial security, as well as job security. However, it appears as though once these two are provided, workers begin to want other things like a sense of autonomy and respect in the workplace, as opposed to additional salary or benefits that these high paying jobs are likely toprovide.

Workers also want to feel that they contributing meaningfully to society. “You don’t have to be curing cancer,” says Barry Schwartz, a visiting professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley, quoted in the article. "You can be a salesperson or a toll collector, but if you see your goal as solving people's problems, then each day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone's life, and your satisfaction increases dramatically,” Schwartz says.

The article cites a 2001 study which showed how meaningfulness influences job. This research was carried out by two researchers,who wanted to figure out why particular janitors at a large hospital were a lot more passionate about their job than others. So they conducted interviews and realized that some members of the janitorial staff saw their jobs as a form of healing. One of the interviewees was a woman, whose job was to mop rooms inside a brain-injury unit where many residents were comatose. The woman was often noticed to go beyond the duties stipulated in her job description. She would redecorate patient’s rooms because she thought it helped them get well sooner and she also talked to the patients often. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” she told the researchers. “That is not really part of my job description, but I like putting on a show for them.”

The solution to the problem of job dissatisfaction, therefore, might be to help people to find meaning in whatever work they do.


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