Why Do We Work?

This is not a trick question

Pomeranian in glasses in front of an ipad, looking as though it's working

Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash



If you were informed you had two weeks left to live, it’s doubtful that your first response would be, “I want to spend as much of my remaining time as possible at work.”

According to the book, Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success by Jessica Pryce-Jones, during the course of a lifetime, the average person, (i.e. someone working from age 20 to 65, who takes three weeks of holiday a year and works 40 hours per week), will spend at least 90,000 hours at work.

That’s a lot of time; so much time, that you may be asking yourself, “Why would I put tens of thousands of hours of my precious time toward a job? There are people to meet, places to go, sights to see!”

Well, you’re not wrong, so here’s an article to remind you why.

Money

Sure, money doesn’t buy happiness, but that’s because a capitalist society is not that simple. Having money (more specifically, having enough money) buys security, freedom, and assurance which in turn allows for happiness because you’re not constantly worrying about whether or not you’re going to have a roof over your head, be able to pay your bills, or have access to the majority of other vital necessities that require money.

The main reason we work is to get paid. This is news to no one, so it’s silly that there is not automatic and explicit transparency around wages in all hiring processes. If you ever find yourself receiving a job offer without knowing its terms of payment, you have every right to ask (ideally they’ll provide the offer and its payment terms in the written form of an “offer letter”). You also have every right to ask (and should ask) for more money before accepting a job. An offer is meant to be negotiated and once you’ve ventured down this mature, respectful, and inquisitive road of asking for more money, you’ll either wind up with better pay or at least have the knowledge that its amount is firm. It might feel exhausting or uncomfortable to advocate for yourself, but most employers probably aren’t expanding their workforces for the sole purpose of paying people fairly or well, so do it!



Healthcare

Unfortunately, not all jobs provide health insurance (bringing us back to the aspect of working for money so that you can cover any additional costs your workplace [or government] does not), but for those with jobs that do, healthcare often holds a large stake in the “why” of working.

Because of this, it is important to make sure that the employer-provided health plan you are on is what is best for you and your needs, even if it isn’t the default plan being advertised to you.

Additionally, find out if you are receiving and utilizing all of the healthcare benefits offered through your job, such as FSAs, HSAs, employer contributions to those accounts, reward or discount programs, free fitness classes, health fairs, reimbursements for preventative healthcare costs, and so on. (This same principle goes for all [if any] benefits provided by your work in general — transportation, retirement, etc…).

If your employer does not provide health insurance, visit your state government’s website to see if there are any health coverage programs you might qualify for.


Paid time off (PTO)

Yet another reason for working (that is annoyingly not guaranteed to employees by all jobs) is paid time off. Ideally, all PTO is spent on blissful scenarios, but its accessibility and use for any instance adds another layer to why we work.

Some employers split the PTO they provide into categories (such as vacation days, sicks days, and personal days), others group it into a set of all-purpose vacation hours, and there are some companies that offer unlimited PTO, (which removes having to track how much paid time off you have available along with the requirement for an employer to pay you out for unused PTO hours should you leave the position).

Whatever the case, learn your employer’s PTO usage, accrual, and expiration policies. For example, you don’t want to unexpectedly find that an abundance of PTO you thought you had is actually non-existent because it does not roll over each year.

It is also useful to understand your state’s laws when it comes to paying out your accrued unused vacation time if you leave the job. In some states, earned vacation time is considered wages, so payment for any accrued unused vacation hours is due to you as part of your final compensation. For those in states that are not obligated to pay out unused vacation hours, you might as well try to use them up before you leave.

If your employer does not provide paid time off, visit your state government’s website to see if they might at least be required to give you a minimum amount of paid sick leave each year.



Balance

Since the majority of our ability to live at least semi-comfortably is dependent on money, and that money is most often earned from a job, we more or less have to work. Because work is a requirement (for most people) in our societal system, we do so in order to establish and provide for a life outside of work, i.e., to form a work-life balance.

In case you haven’t heard it before, boundaries are healthy. Keeping your work within your established “work hours” prevents burnout, allows you to be more productive in your home and work responsibilities, and maybe even gives you a chance to rest and feel restored.

This might be easier said than done, but like anything, you’ll get better at it with practice (and/or therapy sessions where you can vent about it). Whether it is a co-worker who is difficult to get along with, too large of a workload, email notifications at all hours, or any other stressful work condition that is following you home, it is crucial that work does not consume you mentally, physically, or emotionally. You’re allowed to make time and space for all of the priorities in your life and establish an equilibrium between them.

It is also fair to ask the appropriate person or department at your employer if it is possible to change, accommodate, or address whatever is hindering your work-life balance and/or negatively impacting your work experience in general. People are better employees when they’re not drained and have the support they need.

Work establishes a relationship between you and your employer, so it is reasonable for that relationship to be as mutually beneficial as possible. Remember that there is validity in requests or ideas you might propose to your workplace that would make your job better, less taxing, etc…

We don’t work to make ourselves miserable.


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