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Must Work Be Fun?
Should work be fun? Must it be fun? Today, the answer to these questions is mostly yes. What else should it be? Yet however plausible this answer might seem, it is in fact problematic because it is understood generally not as a wish but as a demand and a claim.
This claim has become a dominant idea in management and its training - with disastrous repercussions. It has given rise to expectations that no company can fulfill in the long run.
The stipulation of fun belongs in the category of false doctrines that make it impossible to motivate staff sensibly. It sets off a vicious circle; the expectations produced by managers and trainers are not satisfied, which frustrates the staff. The response to that is motivational programs and "motivating" behaviour; under the given circumstances, however, this can only be understood by those affected as an attempt at manipulation and quite often as a particularly refined form of cynicism, because the work itself is not usually changed and the demand for pleasure and fun in it remains unsatisfied.
This can only make the frustrations grow, because the people now feel as though they have been "taken for a ride". A way out of this vicious circle is only possible if one finds the courage to adopt a new attitude of realism and begins to describe things as they are.
Firstly, one may perhaps think about the fact that this is not the first time in the history of the world that the demand for fun at work has been raised. That does not eliminate the demand but it may be a suitable way to put it into perspective. Secondly, it is useful to distinguish between fun and pleasure. They are not the same thing and it is no accident that language has two separate terms for them.
It goes without saying that one should do everything to eliminate suffering associated with work wherever that is possible; the progress made in this respect in the economically developed countries over the last 100-odd years is considerable. This is one of those revolutions whose history has not yet been written. It also goes without saying that great progress has been achieved if a situation is reached where more and more forms of work can also provide pleasure or fun from time to time.
However, it must be clarified beyond misunderstanding that no job can only ever be pleasurable and that practically any kind of work has aspects that can never bring pleasure to anybody. To make any other claim is na?ve.
Even those activities that many believe would be among the ideal, exciting and fascinating professions, like perhaps a pilot or orchestral conductor, have their tedious sides. Here, too, a considerable amount of routine and drudgery arises over time.
In addition, it must be clear that even those jobs must be done that not only feature objectionable elements but which as a whole can never bring pleasure or fun to anybody. There will still be toilets to be cleaned in future, refuse collectors will be needed and there will be plenty of unskilled jobs. What are these people supposed to gain from the motto that work should be fun?
Equally questionable must be the sense of fun of those people whose job brings them face to face every day with the suffering of the world: refugee aid workers who cannot offer any real help; social workers who cannot eliminate drug addiction, prostitution or homelessness; teachers and priests in the slums of major cities; doctors and nurses whose work in intensive care is all too often hopeless. They do their work not because of the pleasure but because it has to be done, out of a sense of duty - even if that sounds old-fashioned to many people.
Work or results?
The claim that work should provide pleasure and fun leads not only to intractable problems of motivation. It also has a second negative consequence. It distracts attention from the most important thing that must be associated with work - namely the results. It draws people's attention to the work itself instead of directing it onto the results of their work. It is not the work that is important but the achievement - not the input, but the output. It is therefore important to talk not just about unemployment but also about lack of achievement.
The claim, if one really wants to raise it, would be better expressed as follows: it is not the work that should bring pleasure, but its results. Although that does not always work, it is sometimes possible even if the work is absolutely no fun. In those cases, the results can still always bring pleasure or at least provide a hint of satisfaction. The results can be associated with justifiable pride, which provides even those people who have to perform the simplest unskilled jobs with the minimum of self-respect that they need in order to be humans.
If people have jobs that bring them fun or pleasure, they may be congratulated. It is a privilege in every respect and it is a rarity. If all jobs were stopped except those that are fun for people, a society would be at a standstill within twelve hours. As long as that is essentially the case, expressions like duty and doing one's duty should not be removed from our vocabulary, even if they do not match the spirit of the age.
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