The FUN in your job

The FUN in your job

Whatever happened to the fun in your job? A Daily Paradox reader has posed the question and I think it is a good one. His words are compelling: “When one wakes up at 6am daily, takes the crowded commute, rushes for deadlines and has to deal with unreasonableness and unpleasantries at work… and the main outcome of the effort is the company becomes bigger / richer with the biggest beneficiary being perhaps senior management.” Good on you, Sir, for making a totally valid and reasonable point. Where’s the fun in all that?

Work has become subject to two pressures that weren’t there in the 1980s. The first is the non-stop attempt at Efficiency. Now I’m all for being efficient at work. It makes the business of business smoother, less hassle and the outcome of the effort more predictable. I’m very glad when others are efficient, too. Especially the surgeons who gave me a new heart valve back in February. Without their being efficient I shouldn’t be writing anymore Daily Paradoxes. And we’re all grateful to the healthcare people who have been efficient in dealing with the virus.

But efficiency has a price. It is one we are prepared to pay for surgery and crisis, perhaps rather less inclined to support for rewards that are not so clear cut. Where relationships are involved, efficiency can be a loser. A couple having marital problems came to me seeking advice on how to get their marriage back on an even keel. They were both decent people. He had been under pressure at work with the threat of losing his job hanging over him for a year. She had found him getting more and more grouchy, less and less happy.

He recognised his unhelpful behaviour and set about making amends for it. He became ‘more efficient’, tending to the chores more swiftly, tidying up more obsessively, dealing with any queries about their living faster than ever. He became super-efficient. It was quite the wrong thing to do. He needed to forget efficiency and pay attention to his wife. She needed to make him laugh again. They needed to hold hands. When they did, it solved the problem.

If Efficiency were the only difficulty at work it would be easy. But there is also Competition. Again I am totally in favour of competition, am even slightly competitive myself. Winning is a desirable thing to do but not if it makes life hell for you or if you have to kill the other person to come in first. We find it almost impossible to moderate our competitiveness. We can’t moderate anything we see as desirable and decide to pursue. Indeed the very word ‘moderation’ is out of vogue. Whether drinking, dancing, eating, we seem to believe that ‘more’ means’ better’.

In 1960 Kingsley Amis wrote “more means worse’. He was referring to higher education. Sixty years later it would be difficult to disagree. The phrase has come to be used about more things since, often with justification. But it is rather vague. I prefer to think about Excess which is easier to see all around us. ‘Excess of possession’ is a nightmare we live in today. It starts when we are children, making the first steps in building a home. We need possessions to put in it. Minimalism doesn’t appeal until much later, if ever.

There was a saying in a catechism I was made to read when a child that stuck in my mind. I don’t believe most of the things that the monks taught me but this phrase has always seemed relevant. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” Such a simple, obvious, almost beautiful question – whatever one thinks one’s soul is. It makes the use of words like Grab seem indecent, doesn’t it?

For your job to be satisfying you need the following ingredients.

Interest. What can it teach you, what can you make of it?

Scope. A chance to develop beyond the immediate need or benefit.

Creativity. How you can expand everyone’s range of thinking to create a surprise for others.

Humour. Insist on laughter – every eight minutes. It works wonders.

Passion. You must love what you do and what you do it for.

Challenge. It’s what makes you think, something we are a bit short of today.

Every employee should check their job against this list. If they aren’t getting these elements out of it, they should consider whose fault it is.

The clever ones will know the answer fairly quickly.

Just by looking in the mirror.