Why is our generation not happy?

Why our work doesn't have to make us happy

Does our work have to make us happy? No, says our New Work columnist.

Lately I've been talking to people who are between 20 and 30 years old, who have only recently started their first job and are already planning to change jobs. Why? Because somehow they find their job ok, but don't feel that they are really happy in this job. The question arises: does our work have to make us happy? Or better: How sensible is the expectation that our work must make us happy? (Also Read: Everything You Need To Know About Networking - And How To Rescue Your Network From Lockdown)

The promise of happiness at work makes us unhappy

Our new columnist Dr. Max Neufeind is an occupational and organizational scientist and deals with the digital transformation of economy and society

© Annika Nagel

"Life is too short to be unhappy at work," it says in guidebooks. Or: "Do what you love and you never have to work a day." Steve Jobs' speech at Stanford University in which he urged young graduates to follow their dreams has been watched almost four million times on YouTube. At the same time, very few employees in Germany say they are very happy at work in surveys. Is that because most jobs are awful? No! Of course, many people have a job that is quite arduous. But it is also the promise of happiness itself that makes us unhappy. (Also interesting: 5 tips to get you off to a successful start in 2021)

The expectation that work must make you happy is absurd for many older people

When we're not happy at work, we quickly get the feeling that something is wrong with us or our job. This completely OK feeling is normal. First and foremost, work is a means to an end. Realizing yourself in work and feeling happiness is a huge opportunity offered by wealthy societies like ours. But this possibility cannot be realized for everyone and at any point in time. In order not to make ourselves (and others!) Unhappy, we should honestly check whether we really have a problem with our specific work or whether the general expectation that work has to contribute to self-realization is overwhelming.

For many people of the older generation, the idea that work should make you happy is downright absurd. “With the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread,” says the Bible. The fact that for many people of our generation work can be an important source of fulfilling an identity that we have chosen ourselves is first of all a huge gift. But this gift becomes dangerous when we tie our identity too closely to our profession. (Worth reading: “If I had said something!” - why psychological safety makes teams successful)

When love or hobbies suffer from work, something is wrong

People who expect their work to make them happy become emotionally dependent, as the Danish organizational scientist Susanne Ekman shows. They expect their superiors to constantly show them appreciation and are unsettled if this emotional feedback is missing.

Other areas of life also often lose importance: If it is no longer so important to me whether I have a functioning love relationship because my love is for my work, something is wrong. If leisure activities don't make me happy anymore because I feel guilty about having to work, then something is wrong. (Also Read: 3 Skills You Need For The Jobs Of The Future)

The idea that work should make you happy devalues ​​ordinary professions

The obsessive idea that work should make us happy also makes us unhappy not only. It is also an expression of a lack of respect for ordinary work. We hear a lot from actors and pop stars who have finally found their true professional happiness as winemakers or restaurant owners. However, we rarely hear of clerks, bus drivers and nurses who are actually quite satisfied with their work.

Anyone who has ever ridden the Shinkansen high-speed train in Japan may also have been impressed by the dignity and conscientiousness with which the men and women of the cleaning crews enter the trains at the stations. Their faces seem to be saying, "This wouldn't work without us."

The exaggerated expectation of happiness and passion that must be associated with a job devalues ​​normal jobs that most of us will continue to pursue for many years to come. The idea that each of us will find a job that fits one hundred percent to his or her individual character and at the same time brings job security and a good income is simply unrealistic. (Also interesting: you want to be more productive? Then forget about time management!)

Those who only look for happiness at work will not find it

Instead of making happiness dependent on our job, we should rather expect our work to be meaningful - just like the work of the Shinkansen employees. In a study by behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the participants were asked to build models from Lego blocks. For half of the participants, the models were dismantled again into individual parts when the specified time had expired. In the other half, the models stopped. The participants who had to dismantle the models quickly lost their enthusiasm despite being paid.

This shows that seeing meaning in our work is one of the most important drivers for us humans. We want to stand up for things that are important to us and that will last. We want to solve problems. We want to learn and grow. This form of meaning and meaning can be realized in almost every job. (Also read: Does our work have to be meaningful - and also be fun?)

Overzealous searching will not bring happiness to work. Rather, this compulsive search can exhaust us. If we talk too much about it and worry too much about what job could finally make us happy, it ends in ever greater frustration. So let's face the hard truth: work is work. And if you are only looking for happiness at work, you will not find it.

Our columnist Dr. Max Neufeind is an occupational and organizational scientist, new work expert and deals with the digital transformation of economy and society.

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