Why We Work

Why We Work

Ah, summertime. The bees are buzzin’, the lightning bugs are lightin’ and the mosquitos are bitin’. Warm temperatures and high humidity (at least around these parts) engender a torpor that seeps into your bones and makes you wonder, “why work?”

Naturally, if you rouse yourself from summery lottery daydreams and such, the answer to the question is easy: “for a living, you sap.” That’s true enough; most of us need to hold down the gainful to keep vittles in the hopper for ourselves and often for others, but for us project and product manager types, I think there is more to it than that.

I’ve said before in this space that PMs tend to thrive on responsibility and challenge, so if we weren’t actively employed, we’d be working at something for free, just to keep ourselves engaged in life.

The experts say people work for several different reasons:

    • To engage in activities they find meaningful or rewarding. “Meaningful or rewarding” describes work that uses your talents, appeals to your natural inclinations. By performing the work, you express your fullest, best self.

 

    • To enjoy social interaction. Current wisdom is that people count on work for a good deal of their people-time. We are social creatures by nature; I recently heard a speaker say this is true because at the dawn of humanity, if you weren’t part of the group, you got eaten.

 

    • To accomplish goals. We project and product types in particular are very fond of crossing the goal line and yelling “touchdown!” In my youth I worked with a theatrical technical director who said “When I see my design and construction there on the stage, and the actors working on it… that’s my cookies, baby.”

 

  • To contribute to something larger than themselves. Few people get any satisfaction out of chasing their tails all day. I’m reminded of the two guys pushing the wheelbarrows of dirt at the site of a grand cathedral. Upon being asked what they were doing, the first guy said “I’m wheeling this barrow of dirt, of course,” but the second guy said “I’m building a cathedral.” I know which guy I want to be, and I’ll bet you do, too.

The conditions of work have to be right, too, to make it satisfying. Clearly, the pay has to be adequate and fair. The management needs to treat people with respect. The office should be clean. Etcetera!

This is a summery post, mostly just musing, but let me invite you to think about the question “why work,” or, more specifically, “why do I work?” If you can figure that out, you can more easily find the career slot—company, industry, product, whatever—thatfits you best.

I will also add that some thought about what motivates people to work can help you motivate your project and/or productteams.

Okay, that’s enough. I hear the hammock calling.

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