There’s More to Life than Mojitos on the Beach (or, Why People Climb the Freezing Cold Himalayas)


“Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend”                                                                                                                   – Loverboy

What's the Big Idea? 
 
While it may be true, as Loverboy noted back in 1981, that many of us are “workin’ for the weekend,” that’s not a great situation to be in, psychologically speaking.  Psychologist Dan Ariely, author of The Upside of Irrationalitystudies human behavior and motivation, especially as it relates to the workplace. We want more from life than a vacation at Club Med, he says:




In pre - and early industrial societies, where basic survival is a daily struggle, most people aren’t in a position to seek meaning in the workplace. But in the knowledge economy, Ariely observes, work becomes a central part of identity. Meeting a stranger on an airplane, we’re likely to talk about our careers before anything else.

If work is a large part of who we are, what makes work (and therefore our lives) meaningful? In the field and in the lab, Ariely finds that people want big challenges, some autonomy in pursuing them, a bit of healthy competition, and a sense of completion. He cites his own experience climbing a (small) Himalaya. It was awful, he says. Miserable and cold. But it stuck with him as one of the key experiences of his life. Would he do it again? Absolutely. A slightly bigger Himalaya next time, perhaps.
What's the Significance? 
 
Bosses and corporate structures that don’t offer workers these motivators, or that thwart them capriciously in pursuit of greater efficiency, are likely to create unhappy and unmotivated employees, which is obviously in nobody’s best interest. Miserable drones and drudges are ineffective even at mindless tasks, let alone the creative, idea-driven jobs that fuel our economy.

Dan Ariely: Now, I think in the modern workplace, we do the same thing. Think about something like SAP. You have this incredibly complex and expensive accounting and control system that take big complex project, break them into pieces, everybody does one little piece.

I remember when I was at MIT and my assistant basically filled out one part of one form as most of their job in terms of doing accounting. Then somebody else would do another part of the form and somebody else would approve it.
From his perspective, he never knew what was going on. He only knew there was this form with 15 fields and he was in charge of three of them and that was it.

And you can ask yourself whether companies are doing a lot of that. Whether by hailing efficiency and breaking jobs into small components, we’re basically eliminating people’s ability to find meaning.

I think we are weighing an Adam Smith kind of efficiency against meaning in labor, and I think the scale often tips too much towards efficiency and not enough toward meaning.

This post is part of the series Inside Employees' Minds, presented by Mercer.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

Videos
  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

Steven Pinker's 13 rules for writing better

The Harvard psychologist loves reading authors' rules for writing. Here are his own.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Steven Pinker speaks onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
Personal Growth
  • Steven Pinker is many things: linguist, psychologist, optimist, Harvard professor, and author.
  • When it comes to writing, he's a student and a teacher.
  • Here's are his 13 rules for writing better, more simply, and more clearly.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less