Enjoying Your Work
Complaints people have often don’t match reality
People who have devoted their careers to research often have contradictory experiences, often in the course of the same day. Researchers speak to people at social gathering about various aspects of their lives. Then, they read the journals in their fields and find that what people told them is not backed up by careful research.
One example is how busy people say that they are. When asked as question such as, "How are things going?" they respond with stories about how busy they are. They often continue with statements that they are much busier, and have less free time, than twenty or thirty years ago. Yet careful research shows that people have more leisure time than they did in years past.
As discussed in last week's column, one reason for the difference between reports of "I'm so busy" and the reality of greater leisure time is the way the two conclusions are generated.
Reports focusing on busier lives are based on people's memories of the past few months. Research showing more leisure time is based on diary reports. People are asked to complete daily diaries, and so they report television shows watched and informal dinners with friends shortly after these events occurred. Some of these leisure time activities are not as memorable as work behaviors involving difficult customers or discussions about new products and markets. But with daily diaries, events involving free time are recorded before people's imperfect memories take their toll.
There are other reasons for the interesting distinction between people's complaints about busy lives and the results of careful research. One might be called the "What counts as leisure time?" question.
Let's use the example of political fundraisers or welcoming receptions for new employees at work. These might be scheduled from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm on a Thursday. Do people view these as work or as leisure? If they enjoy meeting and talking with different people, some of whom they may not have met before, then they might consider the evening activities as part of their leisure time. If they do not like such events and would rather spend time with family and friends, or use the time to read a mystery novel, then attendance at the fundraisers and receptions would be considered work.
Another example is time for exercise. Compared to 40 years ago, people are much more concerned with their own responsibilities for their health. They have scheduled time for exercise. If they view a one-hour walk as work, then they will complain about another burden on their day. If they view exercise as fun, then they will think about it as leisure.
Still another reason for views about increasing work time is that many aspects of life have become more complex. If people want to watch a TV show, they have the opportunity to examine the offerings of more than 200 channels. Forty years ago, people had only three or four channels to choose from. For many people, it may seem like work to find a television show that they want to watch.
Or, consider children's sports. When I was a child, there was no organized soccer program in any of the three communities where I lived. Friends and I would kick a ball around in a park or vacant lot, but there was no adult supervision. Today, there are organized soccer leagues with uniforms, protective pads, practice schedules, team names, and formal games that require the participation of trained referees. If parents feel it is burden to supervise their children's participation in organized sports, then they will view their contributions to the team as work and will remember it as such.
The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org