The Psychology of Why We Go To Work Every Day

Everyone tells you that you have no obligation to hold on to a life-sucking job just because the pay is good. But the pay is necessary to put bread on the table, often not just for yourself but for a whole family. So how do you manage a situation where you hate what you do but you still have wake up every morning and go to that dreadful job?

As it turns out, you don’t have to do anything. It’s your manager who has to do something about it so that everyone gets what they deserve. But what?

Barry Schwartz, psychology professor and author of Why We Work, sat down with to talk about arduous workplaces that have no reason to be like that other than sheer ignorance. He describes three types of workers that characterize the workforce today: those who work for a paycheck, those who seek advancement (career seekers), and those who work for a cause (passionate entrepreneurs).

Schwartz believes work environments today are comparable to the saying about fish not knowing they live in water. The system dictates what they have to do to survive and they are too busy trying to fulfill those demands that they no longer see the woods for the trees. Essentially, they are being robbed of the opportunity to imagine a career, or to follow their calling and maybe change the world.

Create an environment where every employee feels meaningful

Workplaces where people can be engaged and get some meaning are actually the most productive workplaces, says the professor. He gives managers simple, but vital pieces of advice regarding how to satisfy the moral needs of individual staffers:

  • respect your workforce
  • let them figure out the solutions instead of handing out scripts
  • micro manage less
  • communicate in a detailed way that what they do is making someone else’s life better

Scwarts says that, at the end of the day, everyone wants to know they have produced something that has improved something else, or even better – someone else’s life.

Call centers are underrated

A call center is a great example of a place where one person can make a world of difference. Schwartz stresses that if the management stops looking over your shoulder every minute and lets you take the time to troubleshoot someone’s problem without having to meet a stringent quota of calls, someone’s life will be better at the end of that call, and at the end of the next call, and so on.

As a restult, customer satisfaction rates will be higher, so even if management reduces the number of calls, the call center’s grades will to go up quality-wise. Plus, the employees themselves will be happier, more fulfilled. And in call centers, the staff dictates the quality of the business more than anywhere else.

Character traits make a difference

Another major issue is that management believes people come to work to get a paycheck. Few people actually do. It’s the system that tells them to think like that. People are not valued nearly as much for their character as they are for the skills they already possess. And that’s not the right approach to recruiting.

A smart HR department will hire people for the things the company doesn’t know how to teach them – like character – in the hope that everything else can be taught to them. “Is this a person that really seems interested in doing the work?” This is the key question that needs to be asked before checking the applicant’s resume for Microsoft Excel proficiency, according to the professor.

Schwartz further recalls an interview that Bruce Springsteen did for Rolling Stone 30 years ago, where he said it’s nice to have luxurious lifestyle, but people need to understand that luxury is actually the consolation prize. “When you start only working for those things, you kind of miss the point. The point is the work,” says the professor, paraphrasing the famous musician.

He also notes that lawyers are the most unhappy profession, and that suicide rates in doctors are among the highest in any profession, mainly because of the workplace conditions. These are just a scant few of the tidbits offered by Schwartz in his talk with, and I’m guessing that his book holds ten times as much value in terms of mentality and attitude towards work. Watch the full interview at

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