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Work and Living a Meaningful Life

Last week I read an interesting interview in the NZZ with Theo Wehner, professor for work psychology at the Center for Organization and Work Sciences of the ETH Zurich, about the identity crisis of the work society:

Often in our modern society people don’t succeed in blending work, meaning and fun. In surveys about one third of the persons employed said they would like to stop working if they could. However, two thirds would like to continue, though under changed conditions.

In the 1980ies people said they would like to change their working conditions, in the 1990ies they wanted to have less pressure of time, and now they want more “authority over time” or leisure time.

People however, who lose involuntarily their work are often so much blocked that they can no longer even fulfil their personal duties nor their hobbies. Working is a measure for disciplining and socialising.

It is more and more difficult to find meaning in modern industry and service jobs. Work is being experience as being chopped up into little pieces, and one’s own contribution cannot be experienced within the whole.

Many people commit themselves to voluntary work without payment in charitable or non-commercial activities. They want to do an activity which they like and which is meaningful to them. This is more important than making new acquaintances or giving money for some charitable activity. They found out from their researches over the last years that the main purpose is to do something meaningful, and this is difficult to find in many jobs.

Most volunteers are middle-aged people, where they feel that they want to give something back to society. If they cannot do this, there is the danger of burnout or “mentally giving notice”. Jobless people first want to find a job before going into volunteer work. They found people who after having lost their jobs weren’t anymore able to do their previous activities in an association.

People who had a meaninful life normally can also cope well with the situation of retirement and find something new. The dream of “never working again” seems to be the result of a failed work relation and not a way into freedom.

See also the blogpost on “How to live happy” or the post on The Future of Volunteer Work.

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When the old tracks are blocked: Finding a new orientation in work life.

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