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Making Time for Meaningful Work

by Dan King

Making Time for Meaningful WorkTime Flies.  As a student in the late 60’searly 70’s… a while back, I remember scholarly predictions that advances in automation and technology would ultimately supplant the need for a 40-hour work week by the 21st century.  This impending crisis for American society would threaten the fabric of personal and family life as American workers, forced into working just 30-hours a week, would struggle with the stress of having too much time on their hands.

Huh?  Who were the people making these predictions — meteorologists?  How else could they be so wrong and still have jobs. The 21st century is in full swing and I don’t hear many people complaining about having too much time on their hands — unless they’re unemployed.

We have become a nation of workaholics, working on average, nine weeks more per year than any other modern industrial nation. I hear from clients that they work upwards of 60 hours per week – and that’s not counting the work they take home to do on the weekends.

Author Joe Robinson writes, “the line between work and home has become so blurred that the only way you can tell them apart is that one has a bed.” We work more and more, then drag ourselves home, collapse in front of the TV, fall asleep, then wake up to begin the cycle anew.

In a announcement last week, Max Schireson, the CEO of MongoDB, Inc., announced that he was stepping down as CEO of the software company so he can spend more time with his wife and children.  In his blog he wrote: “I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role.  Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices.”

Whether you see Schireson’s announcement as very courageous or very stupid depends on your values and beliefs about meaningful work.  However, he’s not as unusual as you might think.  I frequently hear clients say that they would gladly forego a pay raise in return for more free time.  But in most organizations today, it’s easier to get extra time off for doing your job poorly than it is for doing your job well. A suspension is more readily attainable than a sabbatical!

The World Policy Analysis Center at UCLA this week reported that the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation and one of only 13 countries in the world not to do so.  This puts us in line with India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and a handful of island nations that don’t require employers to offer workers paid time off.

If you factor in the high level of dissatisfaction amongst American workers, you can see that we’re in the grip of some very destructive beliefs about work.  For the seventh straight year, more than half of U.S. workers report dissatisfaction with their jobs, according to the 2013 version of The Conference Board Job Satisfaction Survey.  They want to change jobs and explore options for more meaningful work, but don’t have the time to do so.  The net effect of all this is an overworked, stressed-out, harried US workforce working at jobs they dislike, trying desperately to manage personal, family and work demands – often with dismal results.

Throughout history, people have usually dreamed of working less, not more.  If you want a work life that aligns more closely with your most cherish values and beliefs, you can’t just dream about it — you need to commit to it, whatever it takes — while there’s still time. 

MeaningfulCareers.com was created by Mark Guterman and Dan King, two guys with a shared commitment to the power of meaningful work.  They help professionals find greater meaning in their careers, lead happier, more satisfying lives, and instill lasting value through their work.  For more information and resources visit:  http://meaningfulcareers.com.  

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