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Some people are happy with their work, some others are not. It is a challenge to measure to what extent people are happy or unhappy. But there is a very simple question worth to be addressed to the workers everywhere: If you win a very big amount of money at the lottery, would you keep doing your job?
Well, without doing serious statistics about it, the extreme majority of the people would say they will leave their job, sometimes even the same day! We can consider those people as unhappy about their job or at least unsatisfied about it. So why do they keep doing it? You know the answer: for money; which means for survival. If they stop working, they will not have money anymore, and without money they will live in poverty, unable to afford a shelter, food and the minimum required to survive decently. Psychologically, they are in the same pattern of the slave. If they work they can have shelter and food, and if they do not, they are threatened to be in misery and even to die. The only difference between both is in the appellation; we call one a free woman or man, and we call the other a slave. The free man is free to leave his job and go to another one; which means that he is free to go from one slavery to another, while the slave usually cannot. The wages in general enable the workers to exchange their money for food and shelter and to maintain their “quality of life”, without letting them becoming too rich to emancipate themselves for the work they do not like. The wages just follow the cost of life, in a way that the slaves, because they are “free” slaves, keep doing a job that they do not like.
If we suppose the day is divided into three parts of eight hours, and that eight hours are used for sleeping, showering, eating…, we come to the point that those people spend half of the time they are awake doing something they do not like to do. Despite all the progress we talk about in technology, science, economy, etc., isn’t it surprising to think that the absolute majority of people on earth spend half of their time (when they are not sleeping) doing something they do not like?! Those people are everywhere in the rich countries, but especially in what we call the “developing countries”, becoming like the factories of the world. Just think about everything around you in your house or in your office, and it is easy to figure out that all the clothes you wear, shoes, furniture, electronics, etc. are mostly made in huge factories in Asia.
Most surprisingly, you almost never hear, in the political discourse, about satisfaction nor happiness at work! Because we cannot measure it, it does not exist, we do not talk about it, or it is not important. Whereas, in reality, it is totally unimportant to advance numbers about the increase of the employment rate if those numbers fail to tell us if those people are happy or not at work, and if they feel useful or not for themselves and for the society as a whole (except from the usefulness of the dollar check they get). Very obviously, those issues are totally absent from most political and economic debates, and governmental policies. The worse is that among the population itself, we can find this general idea that life is naturally made like this, and that labour, by definition, is a painful activity necessary for survival. And because this belief looks so true and is so deeply rooted into our life’s conceptions, there is a general resignation about the topic, a non-desire to think further, a laziness and an incapacity to create and to debate about new economic ideas. Even if technology and science are creating more and more powerful machines, computers and robots, spending half of one’s day doing something that one does not like looks to be still the natural fate of the vast majority of human beings.
This dissatisfaction or unhappiness has of course many consequences. Are we really able to know and evaluate them? Apart from the most visible damages like burnout, depression, suicide, alienation, alcoholism and drug addiction, what does it mean exactly for a society to have the vast majority of its members spending half of their day doing something that they do not want to do? What can be the future of such a society? What kind of morality and values can it produce and transmit to next generations? How can we think about the future of economy, science, and especially of technological progress, if we are not able to put the issue of fulfillment and happiness above all other considerations?
Ironically, there is a field where satisfaction and happiness at work are very important and largely studied; we call it “management”. After the Industrial Revolution, the international race in large-scale mass production and the rise of automatization, new kinds of jobs started to emerge. With the Internet and computers, more and more jobs consist of sitting in front of a screen, moving a mouse and typing on a keyboard. Whether you work in a bank, in a hospital or in a car factory, the physical activity you will do is almost the same: sitting in front of a screen. The productivity cannot be measured anymore with the number of shoes or furniture you produce a day for example. It cannot necessarily be increased by making people work faster, nor by coercing them. The managers, of course, understood that productivity can only be increased by money, motivation, recognition, feeling of satisfaction and happiness at work… Numerous schools of management appeared all over the world, and a huge number of studies were conducted about managerial techniques, and especially about the relations between satisfaction, happiness and motivation in one hand, and creativity and productivity on the other hand. This led to the creation of more autonomous jobs with more responsibilities for the workers, and the emergence of hyper modern start-ups in Silicon Valley, who exported their managerial models to the rest of the world, thus attracting huge investments and hiring thousands of people. Those companies become sometimes the home of the people. The workspace provides its employees with everything they need: library, gym, massage, food, bar, everything… even friends and “family”. The more you work, the richer you get. The happier you are, the most productive and creative you will be. The most productive you are, the happier you will feel…
Of course the managers are most of the time far from being political philosophers. The “happiness” they promote is only a means to increase the benefits of the shareholders, by increasing the productivity. This way of conceiving “work” is obviously disconnected from life as a whole sacred experience we all share, and that brings us from birth to death (and even before birth and after death) through numerous experiences, surprises and questions. But since those managerial methods perfectly correspond to the present dominant individualistic ideology (of more wealth means more freedom and more happiness), they are commanding the people’s minds. They are also highly encouraged by the economic and the political system because, as we said earlier, productivity means more money for the company, more exports, and more wealth for the governments. But the reality is still that the majority of those young people, spending their days in front of computers, would immediately leave their job if they win in the lottery. Their job makes them happy because they do not have any other access to happiness and satisfaction, and they are not ready to sacrifice this small happiness for something that is very uncertain and adventurous.
Very few people, maybe the luckiest ones, are happy with the work they do, and wouldn’t leave their job even if they win in the lottery (as we used this indicator to “measure” the workers happiness). Of course, many of them would change some things, maybe concentrate more on the things they like the most, etc. If those people wouldn’t stop what they are doing after they win in the lottery, it means that they do not consider the activity they are doing as a mere means to gather wealth. They could be passionate about what they do, or they perceive it as something important, rewarding or very useful for themselves and others… There are countless things people do spontaneously and without asking to be paid. We can for example, starting with the simplest things, think about: cooking, making sport, reading a book, watching a movie, making love… Some other activities are even more productive and could be very beneficial for the society, like volunteering, playing team sports, painting, playing music, gardening, developing a software or building something, helping friends, etc. All those activities, because they are not paid, we do not call them “work”, but they are actually the activities that people do anyways because they enjoy doing them. The same activities, if they are performed in return for money, we call them “work”. Indeed, there are a lot of people who are paid to play sports, paint, play music, etc. And then once again, there are those who are happy to do it and others who are not happy to do it. The problem of the actual labour system is that it coerces most of the people, or it corrupts them with money, to do something that they do not want to do. While if they were free to do what they want, everyone would do what he really likes, and would be happy to do it. This utopia is extremely useful to understand what are the real motivations of the people, and what would they do if they were freed from the obligation to spend half of their life doing work that they do not really want to do.
It is then a genuine question to ask: Why have we designed a system where the majority of the people in the world are dedicating the majority of their time to something that they do not really want to do? If they had only enough to live a simple, happy and decent life, would they really do the job they are doing? Not only is it an important question, but the answer to this question can lead us to other questions like: Who governs this world system? Are we still the ones who control the policies we created or did we lose control and became mere witnesses? Those questions are becoming more and more urgent, especially that they are almost absent from any political debate in the world. And since all the governments are under the blind influence an economic “science” that talks only about employment, growth and competitiveness, we should wonder: Is it possible to reduce political life, i.e. our life in common to mere numbers of economic growth?