By Caitlin Kelly
Here’s a truly depressing look at the American workplace:
Curious to understand what most influences people’s engagement and productivity at work, we partnered with the Harvard Business Review last fall to conduct a survey of more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across a broad range of companies and industries. We also gave the survey to employees at two of The Energy Project’s clients — one a manufacturing company with 6,000 employees, the other a financial services company with 2,500 employees. The results were remarkably similar across all three populations.
Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.
My recent trip with WaterAid America to the poorest part of Nicaragua– all these photos– was an amazing re-set for me. Our multi-national, five-person team, only two of whom had met previously, worked 12-hour days in 95-degree heat, and even had to push the van every time to get it started.
We also faced extraordinary poverty, interviewing people living on $1/day in the second-poorest nation in the Americas after Haiti. It could, I suppose, have felt depressing and enervating, but we were meeting amazing people doing valuable work.
It was by far my happiest paid week in a very, very long time.
What I saw and felt there also radically altered the way I now think about my career and how I hope, at least some of the time, to earn my living.
Because our work during that week — driving four hours a day into the bush to interview local women in Miskitu — hit all four of the core needs at once.
We were treated with kindness and respect, laughed loudly and often, and knew the work we were focused on was life-changing. How much better could it get?
People fantasize wildly about the life of a writer, how creative it must be, how satisfying.
I discussed this recently with a female friend, recently retired after a 30-year career as a writer at the Toronto Star.
“Do you think our work is creative?” I asked her.
“Not so much,” she said.
We’re expected to be highly productive. We get to meet and interview a wide variety of people, but creative? That’s not what journalists (sad to say) are paid for.
I stay freelance for many reasons, and the key one is autonomy and the chance to re-make my work into something that, whenever possible, hits all four core needs.
My field, journalism and publishing, has changed a great deal in recent years — pay rates have been reduced to 1970s-era levels, which requires that I and many others now work much, much faster on many more projects at once to make a decent living.
I dislike having to race through most of my assignments to earn a profit — but quality costs time and money to produce and very few people are willing, now, to pay for that.
I never used to hate my work, and I find it very stressful when I do. But journalism is a field in which workers are rarely thanked or praised, in which sources can be elusive or demanding and in which we rarely seem to find time or money to focus on serious issues.
As they are for too many frustrated workers, the four core needs are often damn difficult to attain.
(Or is it “just work”? It’s not meant to be enjoyable)?
How about you?
Do you hate your work?