26 August, 2009

Work and meaning

Ok, let us begin with some questions: what is your work? What does your input mean to your company? Is your work noticed? Are you making a difference locally? How about globally? Most importantly, what does your work mean to you?
Someone might say: "Why should I care, it's just a job for God's sake?"

Exactly. From my experience, by saying "just a job" most people mean that:
I) they go to their job, do their stuff and get out
II) they don't think of their job as anything special

Let's delve deeper into the meaning of "just a job" from a couple of viewpoints

1. The company viewpoint
Those people with "just jobs" aren't really effective. They do what is required, but don't really put their minds into it, meaning that their potential for development is rather limited. For the company this naturally means less profit in the future. So, clearly for the company that kind of people aren't a very wise investment.

2. The employee viewpoint
So what is happening here is the exchange of time for money. You're trading in time, and getting out money, and very little else. You might make some occasional friend at work but that's about it. No rush of adrenaline, no highs and lows. Just the same old job. Day after day, week after week...really starts to wear you down, doesn't it? Nothing ever changes, it's all the same. You go on holiday for a week, come back - it's still the same! They hardly even noticed you were away! A couple of days later, even you hardly notice you've been away!

Why does all this matter? Well, I personally believe that this is the cause of a lot of unhappiness in the Western countries. When you have "just a job" you're just erasing your life periodically. It's a subjective blackout. For those couple of hours per day, you pretty much cease to exist. Imagine having to shut yourself down for the workday, every day. It's bound to create bad results!

How did this happen? Well, historically, companies haven't always been the thousands-large monsters they are today. It probably all started when a guy who was good at making swords realized that it's hell of a lot nice to make that sword for Karl and his brother and get food for that instead of farming all the time himself. Basically, he liked making swords. See the difference to our days? There's loads of people who work in an office and fiddle around with piles of paper all day. Is it because they like to fiddle with piles of paper? Probably not, more likely they prefer staying alive to starving under a bridge. They just aren't that interested in their job, it lacks meaning.

Who's to blame for this? Well, nobody, really. It's somehow in the whole system of society. Naturally, it's better to have a job than to starve. But still, it'd be a hell lot better to have an interesting job. But alas, supply and demand don't match in the job market.

What to do about it? Naturally we'll have to try to match supply with demand better. But businesses can do a lot themselves. They can really start seeing employees as people, instead of as just a resource. I know that there are businesses doing this already, but on a larger scale it needs improving. It's the managers' main responsibility to make the employees see the results of their job, to feel themselves needed. Get rid of all the totalitarian influences in the leadership style, and keep Kant's Categorical Imperative in mind:

  1. Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.
  2. Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
  3. So act as though you were, through your maxims, a law making member of a kingdom of ends.


  1. "Tee työtä, jolla on tarkoitus."
    "Do a job that has a meaning."
    --Finnish Defence Forces

    "One cigarette shortens life by 11 minutes. One day at work shortens life by 8 hours."

    These are indeed matters that employers should consider. How to make employees like their jobs and feel that their working efforts matter. Motivated worker is profitable. In a way robots are one technological solution to this problem.

    "Thank you very much Mr. Roboto for doing the jobs that nobody wants to!"

  2. Yup, the Finnish Defence Forces are definitely one of the rare kind, who manage to market themselves with exatly the qualities they don't have!

    Robots are more and more doing the most boring tasks, which is in the long run a good thing. In the short run, however, I'm not sure about their effect on the level of unemployment. Really need more economic data to have an opinion on it.

  3. Robots have the same sort of effect as machines had during the industrial revolution and better cultivation mathods had in Mesopotamia. Higher technology has always decreased the need of manpower, however, created welfare and a need for higher education which has then again lead to higher technology. People didn't become unemployed – they just started doing more challenging tasks.

  4. I believe this is where the problem of high technology lurks - as far as machines and robots are just a means of improving people's work, they tend to make the work easier but less interesting. If you just sit 8hours behind a machine, it clearly isn't any more challenging than being mentaly almost passive. It is a problem when a machine turns a man into non-emotional machine or non-thinkable machine.

    If there was such an intelligence, AI or robots, that could do the non-interesting work insetad of people, then we'd need to change the entire system - capitalism, where people are needed to make money.