Why it’s OK for your job to just be a job
A quick look at modern job ads gives the impression that they want you to apply to join a new family. One E-commerce specialist advertises a “positive and familial atmosphere.” An advertising agency wants employees “who don’t want to work alone, they prefer to share the load” and an online platform is looking for people who “are pleasant and friendly at all times.” A start-up offers “a corporate family consisting of employees from 27 countries and two dogs, a fully stocked fridge and moments of celebration.”
It seems a pay cheque is no longer enough to keep employees happy. They want more, they want a purpose. That’s why H&M no longer only makes clothes, they now promise “long lasting, positive change by investing in people’s living conditions, communities and innovative ideas” – all right then. Disney no longer makes movies, they now “create happiness through magical experiences” and in addition to electronics, Sony is apparently in the business of “inspiring and fulfilling your curiosity.”
Apparently, work these days is so much more than just working to rule. It has to satisfy our need to make the world a better place. Of the people surveyed for the study Meaning and Purpose, 23% were willing to accept less pay for a job they felt was meaningful. No wonder large corporations have spotted an opportunity and are rushing to change their mission statements to attract those who want a meaningful job.
Which makes it even more surprising that only 15% of employees in Germany actually feel an emotional connection to their employer. 69% don’t really feel connected and simply work to rule – that’s a clear majority! (Gallup Engagement Index 2019).
But really – what’s so bad about not being emotionally connected to your employer? That was what we here at Humanoo asked ourselves when we set out to write this article. We would like to take a moment to appreciate those employees for whom work is just a means to an end, a way of supporting their livelihood. Call us crazy, but perhaps there is a way to find meaning outside of a career?
Passion does not necessarily equal skill
In his book “Feierabend! Warum man für seinen Job nicht brennen muss” (Closing time! Why You Don’t Have to Love Your Job), Volker Kitz writes that passion does not necessarily equal skill. He uses the example of reality TV talent shows: many people who audition sing very passionately… but that doesn’t mean they sing well. According to Kitz, some people do better at work when they are able to create distance between themselves and what they are doing; this allows them to work more carefully and judge more critically.
Controversial methods such a “work to rule” might not be as repugnant as they are portrayed, and could even be a strength. After all, if people are able to complete all their work within the time assigned for it, then surely the only thing that really means is that they are particularly efficient. Boundaries between our work and private lives are easier to maintain when we foster a healthy distance to work and do not feel like we have become one with our job. At the end of the day, that distance means that our mind belongs to us, not our employer.
However, it’s also important to remember that meaning means something different to every single one of us. A children’s charity in India is not everyone’s definition of purposeful work. Many people feel a sense of purpose when they bake bread for others, arrange flowers or clear out blocked pipes – all jobs that provide a great deal of added value to society.
According to a survey carried out by Indeed, 90 percent of German employees primarily want a job that is fun. The most important factor seems to be that we be allowed to use our skills and make full use of our talents.
A negative attitude can make you sick
Of course, at this point we have to mention that there is a fine line between not being emotionally invested in your employer and feeling conflicted about the work you do. Over the long term, the latter can make us ill, both mentally and physically, because we are engaging daily in activities that do not reflect our personal values – which is what we wrote about in our last article.
There are plenty of studies that prove that, sooner or later, work people consider meaningless will make them sick. But as we already mentioned, we have to be very careful when deciding what can be considered ‘meaningful work.’ Something that might appear meaningless to one person can mean a great deal to another.
And for many people, it’s not just what they do at work that matters; they also want a healthy work environment, regardless of whether or not they consider what they are doing meaningful. That includes friendly co-workers, duties that don’t lead to burnout or total boredom, a kind manager or perhaps the freedom to decide for themselves when to do which tasks.
Purpose can be found outside of work
It’s also useful to know that many people deliberately look for meaning in their life outside of working hours, and are very happy with that decision. One of our team members told us this story about a good friend of hers:
He’s a passionate guitar player, and he had always wanted to turn his passion into a career and work in the music industry. No sooner said than done: he found a job backstage as an event technician and was very excited to start work.
But after only a year, he quit, because the job had started to negatively affect his passion for music. Instead, he decided to work as a real estate agent and pursue music as a hobby he loved. Today he plays in a band after work and on the weekends, and that’s how he finds meaning in his life.
And many people are just like him. They find space for self-fulfilment after work or on the weekend. Sure, some of them probably would love to turn their passion into a job. But right now, we are focusing on the people who consciously decide to find meaning in life outside of work, wanting to keep their passion free of the pressure to make money, meet deadlines and set goals. Which is fair enough, right?
How emotions can help us find our purpose
So now the question is: how do people find meaning, and what tools can they use to help? Well, the great news is that, from birth onwards, we have a natural, integrated system that helps us to find our purpose in life. There is not a single person who doesn’t have access to the system. And that system is: our emotions.
When you start paying attention to your emotions, you will naturally start to recognise those things that you find fun and fulfilling. Every single person is unique, and so every single person has their own unique purpose, the reason they were brought into this world.
One of the reasons that emotions exist is to bring you closer to your unique, personal purpose. So the next time you feel happy, consider that it might be because you are currently very close to something that you find meaningful.
If you go deeper and commit to listening more closely to your emotions, and to living your life based on what they have to tell you, you will automatically find your purpose in life. Emotions are our inner compass.
One way to facilitate this exploration is to create an environment and an atmosphere that facilitates an understanding of what you are feeling. Meditation works well for some, others prefer a good workout or perhaps a good book. Still others are best able to hear their inner voice while swimming, walking in the woods or painting.
So a good first step would be to discover the activities that allow you to listen to your inner voice and give your emotions free reign. Here at Humanoo, we have over 3,000 courses and videos focused on fitness, mindfulness and physiotherapy. Weekly classes on subjects such as meditation, yoga, autogenic training and workouts help you take a break, connect with your inner self and relax. Our inner compass can’t do the work we want it to do until we get out of autopilot mode and take a moment for ourselves.
So, how do you feel?
The most important advice we have to offer you in this article is to be patient with and compassionate to yourself. We live in a society that doesn’t really make it easy to follow our inner compass, truly experience our emotions or take time to listen to our inner voice. Socialisation and experiences in our childhood can twist and confuse our inner compass.
The good news is: you have time. Time to allow your emotions to show you the way and make themselves known to you. As an adult, you have a choice: are you going to listen to your inner voice, or are you going to stay on autopilot and try to turn off that inner alarm system? Remember: there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotions. There are only suppressed and expressed emotions.
This is not a transformation that can happen overnight. It takes time and courage to really examine where it hurts and to let go of those things that are not in harmony with your inner compass and your purpose. But if you choose to take this journey, there is no end to the rewards it will bring you: happiness and a life in harmony with your emotions and your values. Your “purpose” will follow naturally. One day you will wake up and realise that you are making conscious decisions about what is and isn’t good for you, standing up for yourself and avoiding negativity. And isn’t that the true meaning of life?
We are so, so thrilled that we can help you along this journey. Thank you so much for letting us be part of it.
Your Humanoo team