Thursday, November 26, 2015

It's Not About the Money

Steve Jobs was not known for his cuddliness. However, Nick Bilton discovered an important lesson upon hearing a story when Jobs was being a jerk to a waitress ("What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Being a Son and Father"). 
No matter what you do for a living, should you do the best work possible?
It's not about vocation, Bilton realized. He spent plenty of time in non-vocational work—waiter, hair washer, costumed cartoon animal. 
And yet it wasn’t until my mother found out that she had terminal cancer in mid-March and was given a prognosis of only two weeks to live that I learned even if a job is just a job, you can still have a profound impact on someone else’s life. You just may not know it.
His mother's appetite dwindled, then disappeared; the end was nigh. But suddenly she asked for her favorite, shrimp. Bilton bolted to the nearest Thai restaurant to fetch his mother's dying request. 
While I stood waiting for my mother’s shrimp, I watched all these people toiling away and I thought about what Mr. Jobs had said about the waitress from a few years earlier. Though his rudeness may have been uncalled-for, there was something to be said for the idea that we should do our best at whatever job we take on.
This should be the case, not because someone else expects it. Rather, as I want to teach my son, we should do it because our jobs, no matter how seemingly small, can have a profound effect on someone else’s life; we just don’t often get to see how we’re touching them.
Certainly, the men and women who worked at that little Thai restaurant in northern England didn’t know that when they went into work that evening, they would have the privilege of cooking someone’s last meal.
Shortly thereafter, Barry Schwartz's "Rethinking Work" presented this concept under more scientific parameters, complete with cited studies.
Though the custodians’ official job duties never even mentioned other human beings, many of them viewed their work as including doing whatever they could to comfort patients and their families and to assist the professional staff members with patient care. They would joke with patients, calm them down so that nurses could insert IVs, even dance for them. They would help family members of patients find their way around the hospital.
The custodians received no financial compensation for this “extra” work. But this aspect of the job, they said, was what got them out of bed every morning. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” said one. “That’s what I enjoy the most.”
Finding meaning in what may be considered menial work is what makes life great. 
These are just ... examples from a literature of cases demonstrating that when given the chance to make their work meaningful and engaging, employees jump at it, even if it means that they have to work harder.
Humans are not motivated by money alone. We are more likely to help if not offered financial compensation. Schwartz was arguing for a change in workplace policies that would make meaning part of the job, but Bilton shows how one can find the meaning, even if it isn't obvious.   


Altie said...

I love this. I recently read an article regarding finding meaning in your work. It mentioned that children who saw their parents treat work as something fulfilling and meaningful are more likely to find careers that are meaningful. It is definitely hard to attach purpose and meaning to seemingly mundane tasks.

This reminds me of the Friends episode where Monica and Phoebe plan a party together and since Monica is so controlling she only puts Phoebe in charge of cups and ice. The result is that Phoebe takes her job seriously and uses colorful cups as decorations, even making hats and chandeliers out of cups. And for ice she gets dry ice, regular ice, crushed ice for snow cones, etc. Although she did it as a sort of revenge to Monica for not giving her a more important task, Phoebe took charge and did that job the best way possible. "Monica put me in charge of cups and ice, and Monica is gonna rue the day that she put me in charge of cups and ice."

Great post.

Mr. Cohen said...

Anonymous said...

There's a Midrash about why Chanoch earned the chance to "walk with G-d" without dying. He was a shoemaker and intended each stitch would give pleasure to the owner (hope I got that right - not able to check right now ).

(THIS is Daniel not currently able to log in to google)

Princess Lea said...

Altie: Great visual with Phoebe!

People can mistakenly believe that meaning is found in grand charitable gestures, but not everyone has the time or the ability. But broadening one's view to encompass all the people one can touch in the day-to-day ploddingness can grant great meaning.

Daniel: Sounds good! I'll take it.