Work – What Is It Good For?

“Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” – Voltaire (Real name: François-Marie Arouet. He changed it to a one-word non de plume, like Prince or Madonna. If he’d lived today, I think he would’ve tweeted a lot.)

This article is an extract from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears


A very common piece of advice from centenarians is to spend less than you earn. A bank advert in New Zealand boldly claimed that money is neither good nor bad, it depends what you do with it. That may be true but it seems, from a health perspective, that debt sucks. I’m on the fence with this one because to get a freehold house, you need a mortgage. To build a business that outlasts you, initially you probably need a loan.

Happy Money, a book by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton outlines numerous studies into how best we can use and trade-off our money to improve our lives. Doubling your income will at best only ever increase your happiness by nine percent. And above an annual income of $US75,000, additional income doesn’t influence our daily happiness levels at all. They identify five core principles to guide us in our money-using decisions if happiness is what we’re after:

1.   Buy experiences not things,

2.   Make treats a treat,

3.   Buy time,

4.   Pay now & Consume later (Anticipation se rejouir),

5.   Invest in others.

We’re bad at saving for the future because we have a hard time imagining ourselves there. Hal Ersner-Hershfield from Northwestern University conducted a study with Stanford in 2010 on ‘High Future Self Continuity’. They developed a mirror that gave subjects an avatar reflection of themselves as they would look when they were seventy years old. Compared to a control group, those having a conversation with their seventy year old selves set aside twice as much for retirement savings. The sooner they develop a smartphone app for that, the better.

Envision a future and design it. Diversify and invest, not just financially but in all aspects of your life. Nourish your social relationships. Work longer and save more. Anchor your development around lifelong learning.

Some say that the future of crap jobs belongs to robots but that potentially has its own pitfalls. A union boss was taking a tour of a Ford car factory with a senior manager in the 1950s. The factory was experimenting with robots performing manufacturing tasks.

Manager:      “How are you going to get the robots to pay union dues?”

Union Boss: “How are you going to get the robots to buy cars?”

So, how are we affected when our work is impacted by robots or mismanagement or bad luck? In 2008, the Economic Journal published a study by Clark, Diener, Georgellis and Lucas. They followed 130,000 people over decades looking at lags and leads in the impact of life events. They asked, “Do individuals tend to return to some baseline level of well-being after life and labour market events?” They found, “Although the strongest life satisfaction effect is often at the time of the event, we find significant lag and lead effects. We cannot reject the hypothesis of complete adaptation to marriage, divorce, widowhood, birth of child and layoff. However, there is little evidence of adaptation to unemployment for men. Men are somewhat more affected by labour market events (unemployment and layoffs) than are women but in general the patterns of anticipation and adaptation are remarkably similar by sex.”

They looked at major life events and how we bounced back from the knocks of the negative ones. The death of a spouse is a tough one but the longest negative impact on wellbeing, perhaps permanent, comes from long-term unemployment.

They don’t just lose income with the poor health effects of that but they lose self worth and identity. People, especially men, who are carefree, undependable and unambitious in childhood, and have unsuccessful careers, have terrible mortality rates.

John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice (RIASEC) maintains that in choosing a career, people prefer jobs where they can be around others who are like them. They search for environments that will let them use their skills and abilities, and express their attitudes and values, while taking on enjoyable problems and roles. Behaviour is determined by an interaction between personality and environment. He identified six types:

Mismatches in personality and career path does heighten risk of poor health and mortality but that risk is significantly lowered by a productive perseverance, a sense of mastery and accomplishment. These happen to be fundamental drivers of employee engagement. My last book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ is a resource for employers trying to create a work environment that would allow their workers to be engaged. Engagement is the application of discretionary effort – people doing more than they have to because they choose to. There is ample evidence that engaged workplaces have higher productivity, revenue and profitability. That’s great for the boss but what about non bosses? Why should they want to be engaged? Well, how about living a longer and more meaningful life?

Having a long commute sucks but did you realise how unhappy it could make you? Many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long-term because we acclimate to them. People never get used to their daily grind driving to work because sometimes the traffic is terrible and sometimes it isn’t. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.” We rationalise this to ourselves and the family we don’t see as often as we’d like by looking at our bigger house or higher salary. These rationalisations don’t work. Swiss economists researched the effect of commuting on happiness and observed that such factors could not make up for the despair caused by a long commute.

The 10,000 hours thing has been done to death and back. The original piece of research by K. Anders Ericsson discovered much more than expertise requires an average of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. In looking at the highest performers across many and varied fields, yes, a focused type of practice over time was critical but two other factors do not get enough attention. The highest performers get enough sleep and they do their ‘work’ in short productive bursts. Typically, these would be no more than ninety minutes. Not many jobs lend themselves to that but if we’re genuinely interested in results rather than just cranking out hours at a desk, it’s a provocative idea.

Remember back to this book’s section on ‘Moving.’ Having a desk job can double your chances of contracting cardiovascular disease. Sitting is a big factor behind that problem. Here are just some of the downsides of prolonged periods of being motionless:

·              Shuts off electrical activity in your large leg muscles,

·              Calorie burning in your body drops to one per minute,

·              Production of your fat-breaking enzymes drops by 90%,

·              Two hours of sitting drops your good cholesterol levels by 20%.

Maybe you should be reading this standing up?

One technique I’m a fan of these days is the ‘Walking Meeting.’ I’ve read of various companies that have meetings in rooms with no chairs. Their motivation, or more accurately – their boss’s motivation, was to have more efficient meetings. The unintended upside is health! The Walking Meeting is self explanatory. I used to work for a City Council and I can imagine how much more efficient and pleasant experiences Council meetings would have been if we’d been strolling around Lake Pupuke. Quite aside from the health benefits and efficiencies, it might’ve reduced the length of some of the monologues.

Joking aside, the best conversations that took place in my experience as a Manager for that Council were the ones that took place in the field. Politicians, officers and residents would show up at the site of the building / pothole / proposed bus stop or wherever. Standing, walking, pointing, arguing etc was made all the more purposeful and productive not just because of the location in the real world but because of the movement. It literally ups everyone’s energy levels which positively impacts creative thinking, attitudes and productivity. Things get done and you feel like things are getting done. You do not feel like that in a meeting room on your butt and that feeling drives negative physiological consequences.

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying.” – Woody Allen


This article is an extract from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears

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About Terry Williams - The Brain-Based Boss

I'm all about engaging people and helping you engage yours to influence behaviour to improve results - at work and at home. Maybe you're a manager, a salesperson, a leader, a parent, a presenter or an event organiser? You need to grab your people's attention, create some rapport, be memorable and influence behaviour change. How can we do that? I'm originally a trainer by trade, turned manager, turned comedian and partway back again. Author of 'THE GUIDE: How to kiss, get a job & other stuff you need to know', I write and speak about how to engage people, be they employees, family or yourself. How can we connect with people’s own internal motivations and help them use their own inner passions to drive towards productivity, success and happiness? And hopefully have a few laughs along the way... As a trainer facilitating learning and development in others, I find myself drawing on my own extensive business experience. I specialise in the delivery of high impact, customised training solutions for organisations that are serious about improving the performance and lives of their people.

Posted on May 15, 2018, in Employee Engagement. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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