Is Hard Work Paying Off?

Published: Jan 25, 2016

 Salary & Benefits       Workplace Issues       
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From an early age, we are told that if we work hard, we can achieve anything. We are cited quotes by famous people who have succeeded in their respective fields. The notion that success is measured by job title, money, stability, and respect is embedded in our minds. The only thing missing from this list is our own happiness, something that has only recently been added, arguably by millennials. In an article published on Medium, Jessica Semaan says, “Working hard is ignorance... I was young, and my narcissistic boss told me it is the only way.” Semaan is a millennial who founded her own company in her later 20s. But is hard work all for nothing if we don’t take satisfaction in the work itself?

Working hard at a job you hate may seem counterintuitive, and that’s because it is. In a 2015 study focusing on the correlation between workers’ overall happiness and their productivity, researchers found “a causal link between human well-being and human performance.” In four experiments, there was enough data to support the claim that if a worker is unhappy, for personal reasons or otherwise, they are unable to be productive (for upwards of two years!), and in turn, cannot “work hard.” The notion that working hard has nothing to do with loving your job is also opposed directly in these findings. 

The ability for a worker to focus on a job they have started to find dull or easy cannot compel them to take it seriously or give it their undivided attention. These traits are important when trying to boost a career, so often workers find it hard to motivate themselves to move onwards or upwards and are rather found in a “work rut.” As Mary Hladio, founder and president of Ember Carriers Leadership Group, explained,

Someone who genuinely loves their job ... is unlikely [to] complain or begrudgingly complete tasks at the minimum level of effort. Instead he or she will be engaged in his or her work ... and interested in motivating co-workers in the [company's] mission and goals.”

Working hard can still lead to failure. Failure happens when you try, give it your all, and still find that in some way, you couldn’t achieve what you had set out to accomplish. It’s something that everyone will experience at a certain point in their career, regardless of how hard they try to avoid it. In the Forbes article “Why Hard Work May Not Pay Off,” Cindy Wahler, Ph.D. recounts the first time she was passed up for a promotion, realizing that “working the trenches can lead us to believe that hard work will guarantee a prosperous career.  I did learn that rolling up your sleeves is only one kind of hard work.” Although hard work is not the antidote to failure, acceptance and learning can be. Learning to understand what occurred and how it can be avoided in the future has enabled many to become great leaders, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, and plenty more.

Working hard is not the same as concentrating and working diligently. It can be a part of this, but it can also mean using the time you have more efficiently. Sweden has identified this problem and recently announced the introduction of 6 hour workdays for employees. With the new initiative, Sweden hopes to give its workers a chance at maintaining an equal work/life balance. Toyota has already adapted the workday hours and reported in the company having less turnover, higher profits, and (surprise!) a happier staff within just a few months.

To abandon “working hard” does not mean to lessen the importance of the work or to relieve employees of any time commitments; it suggests a new approach of managing time with a deeper focus of the tasks at hand. One of Semaan’s strongest closing statements is: “Working hard means I am stupid. Because I am not stopping and finding ways to work smarter.”

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