Much research in psychology and neuroscience has found that we have a virtually limitless ability to rationalize problems away. A case in point is the argument offered by Aaron Hurst on a few weeks ago (“Being ‘Good’ Isn’t the Only Way to Go”). He begins by noting that many members of the corporate work force apparently struggle to find purpose in their work, so they look for meaning elsewhere – often in volunteering. But they should not really need to do this. In Hurst’s experience, the “satisfaction” employees “expressed” from non-paid work “came from contributing to something greater than themselves, but was also about the opportunity for self-expression and personal growth that such work enabled.” The solution? Just give everyone the impression that they are achieving the latter part of this compound formula for job satisfaction, and they won’t be distracted by search for meaning elsewhere. And, by the way, work in the non-profit sector can be unsatisfying in its own way.
In Hurst’s words, “companies such as Cornerstone Capital Group have begun to adopt changes to increase employee purpose.” One CEO told him “that she asked her employees whether they had a good day and to identify moments that made it so. She then works with them to refine their job, making small adjustments to change their engagement at work and boost their meaning.” So this is the takeaway from the whole argument: all you need to resolve the meaninglessness of modern work (and perhaps life) is a few “small adjustments.” Yet another “cultural contradiction” of capitalism solved in an ingenious way. Hurst is a successful entrepreneur who has run “a nonprofit that enrolls professionals in pro bono service and builds volunteer programs for companies.” He has also published a book on “the purpose economy.” So he should know.