Most People Like to Work

by Paula Apynys for The Economy, Working

I spent about ten years (from my mid-twenties to mid-thirties) in the employment industry, working with recent college graduates, laid-off “blue-collar” workers (and other hourly folks) and graduating MBA’s.  There are a number of insights I carried with me from those jobs, insights that color my views about employment, jobs, the economy, and so on.

Today’s insight: Most People Like to Work.

The folks I met wanted to work. There were all sorts of issues surrounding where they wanted to work, doing what, and why, but fundamentally, they wanted to work. 

There were people who had loved their jobs and lost them due to company or plant closures or relocations. There were young people trying to find their way into professional employment and MBA candidates strategizing for promotions or career-changes. I worked with natural interviewers, struggling interviewers, people with marketable backgrounds and credentials, people with “average background and credentials and people with terrible backgrounds and no credentials. For some, the greatest difficulty was defining their objectives; they weren’t sure what they wanted to do. Others had defined goals but also various obstacles holding them back. Ohio has basically had a tough job market for my entire adult life. Not absolutely awful all the time, with spurts within specific disciplines periodically, but always competitive and often quite challenging. 

But people, whatever their backgrounds or education, want to be out there, employed. People who fortunate enough to find employment in well-run, positive enterprises cherish their jobs. If met half-way (or often less), people are ready to be loyal and dedicated — people like being loyal and dedicated. 

While plenty of kvetching goes on and a fair number of people actively dislike the jobs they have, the default position most people take is one of positive anticipation. They go into new jobs with high hopes and will tolerate a lot of imperfection before quitting. Their tolerance is partly a consequence of difficult employment markets — people know jobs can be hard to come by and they are grateful to be employed — but self-interest is not the primary motivator. Setting aside truly unpleasant work environments and genuinely bad bosses, most work situations tend to be, in toto, reasonably pleasant. Pleasant enough. More good than bad. Sufficiently positive that they inspire in people a willingness to come back, day after day. 

Some employment environments go beyond being reasonably pleasant and become the kinds of places people aspire to work for. Whether by design, or as happy accidents, such employers are able to take advantage of the inclination towards dedication and loyalty which characterizes most people.  

Today’s economy does not suffer from a shortage of hardworking or willing workers, it suffers from a shortage of decent jobs.

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