Ask the CHO: Enjoying work itself

I’m taking questions about happiness at work, and Chris asked me a good one:

Why do you never talk about the happiness you can derive from work itself, but always about the ancillary parts, i.e. the relations you have with your colleagues? Surely the job itself should be the greatest contributor to your happiness at work. I am thinking of Csikszentmihalyiís work on Flow.

That’s a great observation Chris – thank you for calling me on it. I’d kinda noticed this myself, but I never really though about it untill I read your question.

I think I do need to focus more on the enjoyment people get from the work itself, because for many people it is a huge part of happiness at work. Off the top of my head, there are three kinds of enjoyment you get from work itself:

  1. The tasks themselves can be fun. Like talking to customers, when you like your customers or painting houses if that’s your thing.
  2. Getting results feels good. Achieving your milestones, making the numbers, reaching your goals is a huge source of satisfaction
  3. Getting better makes you proud. Learning, improving, being able to do more today than yesterday is great.

Is there more to the happiness derived from the work itself? What do you think?

I’m not sure the job itself always needs to be the main source of happiness at work. Many people have jobs where the tasks themselves bring them little enjoyment (say, flipping burgers at McDonald’s) but are still perfectly happy at work. In this case people need to focus more on the ancillary parts, as you call them.

As for flow, most jobs bring with them opportunities for flow – even highly repetitive jobs. This does not necessarily mean that people are happy at work… I’m a little skeptical of the link between flow and happiness at work, and while flow is fun and pleasurable, I’m not convinced that it’s an indication of happiness, nor vice versa.

2 thoughts on “Ask the CHO: Enjoying work itself”

  1. Another place where I take joy from my work is where my efforts can make things easier for others. Maybe it’s just because I have always been in a support role (desktop support then system administration and now database administration) but for me there is great joy in working hard to make other’s jobs easier.

    Maybe this fits in with number 2, but for me it’s a very specific subcategory.

  2. I see what you’re saying: Helping others and making a positive difference for people. Good point, and the best part is that it’s something that you can find in almost any job!

    Thanks Jon, that one goes on the list.

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