Sure, people want a job. But more than that, they want to avoid boredom and take pride in their work.
By the time this column hits the newsstands, I will have reached the grand old age of 40. And once the shock of being definitively past my prime recedes - if it ever does - I am hoping some mental clarity might set in.
(And please don't offer, as your rejoinder, a dreary "life begins at 40" or, worse, the "look at Madonna/Elle MacPherson/Liz Hurley, they've never looked better" bunch of bunkum. Wiry old Madonna, for one, can't stop getting out her norks to protest everything from the plight of Muslim women, to the local superette's unwillingness to stock Kabbalah water.)
Nope, no time here to develop any of the tics of the rich and famous. However, 40 years has given me time to come to a few realisations that I feel more certain about than ever. Such as, what goes around doesn't always come back around (despite the Justin Timberlake song). That life is too short to endure a psychotic boss, unless you have absolutely no choice. And that reading is one of life's true, easy joys.
The other truth I hold is that people, by and large, want to do a good job, and want to be considered good at their jobs. They actually want to be wanted; they yearn to be appreciated in their professional lives.
Some folks seem to think a lot of positive affirmation and whooping and hollering like revivalists at pan-company meetings is the way to bring out the best in their employees.
But in my opinion, not enough managers or bosses - or those concerned with job creation - concentrate on what the day-to-day shape of an individual job is like. The jobs that people are expected to do - are they engaging? Do they provide a real alternative to languishing on a benefit? Do they pay enough to keep people motivated? And do they allow people a little autonomy in their work, something I'm increasingly inclined to think is a vital component of any job?
A man much wiser than I once gave me a book called Flow, which seemed to explain how people can find satisfaction in all manner of jobs, even those that might seem mundane in others' eyes.
Coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, "flow" is a mental state in which a person performing an activity is "fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoying the process of the activity".
Boredom is the antithesis of this feeling; how many people drag themselves to and from work each day, watching the clock, wanting to be challenged more or utilised according to their skills? According to a new paper by Canadian psychological scientists in the latest Perspectives on Psychological Science, boredom is universally seen as "the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity", which can be a significant source of stress and has even, in some studies, been linked to mortality ("bored to death", as we non-psychological scientists might say).
Sure, a job is a job is a job is a good thing. Pays the bills, keeps you off welfare, teaches the value of money and all the rest. But to avoid the waste of human capital created by constant boredom and lack of engagement, no well-meaning discussion of job creation should fail to remember the importance of giving people not just jobs, but that old-fashioned thing called pride in their work.
* Illustration by Anna Crichton: firstname.lastname@example.org