The Reason You Hate Work Is Because You Would Rather Have More Leisure Time

This editorial (or really a big advertisement for “consultants”) isn’t all bad. But some of the basic framing reminds me again of the question of just how spoiled twenty-first century Americans are.

The headline in the New York Times is: “Why you hate work.”

The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

This is an entitlement mentality.

Yes, there are better places to work because the owners and managers are better at respecting and helping their workforce. And the writers may be able to help a business make changes that help employees and boost productivity.

But the phrase, “even if you’re lucky enough to have a job” exposes the flaw in the premise. The reason you hate work is that it is work. The reason you do the work is because you want to financially support yourself and your dependents. The reason your employer pays you is because you won’t work for free. You will sleep for free and eat for free, you will pay money to get TV shows or to use a gym, but you won’t work for a company for free—let alone pay them for the privilege.

Jobs can be better or worse but the reason people prefer leisure to work isn’t because the work is being done wrong. It is because it is work at all.

Many people have, in their minds, a dream job that they want to achieve. Some are lazy enough to refuse to take a less desirable job. They justify this to themselves for all sorts of reasons. But the bottom line is that they are claiming that, unlike the vast majority of people in human history, they are too good to do work that is undesirable. It is an entitlement mentality.

Sometimes people eventually find their “dream jobs.” Sometimes those are sources of joy and satisfaction. Other times, a person finds out it was all imaginary. Once the dream job is found and acquired, one makes the discovery that it is still work and thus undesirable and unpleasant.

A much more attainable goal is to get in the habit of working, and devise strategies and habits that help you work better despite the irrationality of the workplace. And in so doing one can find that one has mastered oneself in ways that were unimaginable earlier in life. One can find a sense of satisfaction in becoming a better and more productive worker despite the frustrations.

The bottom line is that we live in an economy where we should not encourage a person’s natural inclination to resent their job.

The writers again resort to the current cliché about how great Costco is as a company. I agree that Costco is a great company but so is the demonized Sam’s Club. The bottom line is that companies use different strategies and a single strategy will not work for everyone. Costco prefers to pay more to get loyal and productive workers. Sam’s Club accepts the price of frequent turnover and finds productive people during that process. As I have argued, if Sam’s paid as much as Costco, then Sam’s would not benefit as Costco has benefited and Costco would stop benefiting from paying more. Costco’s strategy only works for the company as long as they are paying more than comparable jobs in other companies.

Again, I’m sure there is valuable material in the editorial, but encouraging people to blame their job for the reasons they hate working is irresponsible. It produces a country of whiners who refuse to work and who look for ways to commit disability fraud.

It doesn’t encourage the culture of economic recovery that we need.