iheartmyjob-300x300.gifThe Do What You Love catchphrase has reached new heights of popularity in recent years, but, thankfully, some folks out there are wondering if it is merely an unrealistic and sort of elitist idea.

Slate’s Miya Tokumitsu provides a much needed skeptical take in a piece titled “In the Name of Love: Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers.”

There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work—and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

Indeed! Even organizations dedicated to preparing people for the jobs that people love are built with the less celebrated labor of others. A recent example — the harsh working conditions workers in Abu Dhabi faced building a new campus for New York University, part of “a growing number of experiments in academic globalization,” according to a recent New York Times article.

But you don’t have to go abroad to see people working under harsh conditions, or holding jobs that many may find unsavory but still toiling away.

I wrote about this a while back after spending a lot of time with a guy who was a sanitation worker in downtown Wilmington, DE. He probably had one of the toughest jobs around, but when I asked him about it he said:

“I have to work,” he said. “A man don’t work he don’t eat.”

This wasn’t his dream job. In fact, he laughed out loud when I asked him if he had a dream job in mind. “I’m 44 years old,” he said. “I stopped dreaming about jobs. I work to live and support myself and my family.”

People often do jobs they hate, or don’t quite love, for a paycheck. I’m not saying you shouldn’t find a job you love, but all this focus on work happiness is making me unhappy.

There are endless books written about the topic, and endless experts telling you how to make your life better and happier. Alas, the reality is many of us don’t love what we do but still have to do it no matter how it impacts our happiness quotient.

Sorry DWYL and happiness gurus.

For a reality check, I turned to my favorite reality guru Ken Matos, the director of research for Families and Work Institute. Here’s his take on the rise of the DWYL slogan.

“DWYL is a mantra for choosing between two relatively good choices,” he says. For example, “whether to accept a promotion from a line position with tasks you enjoy/are good at to a higher paid management position with lots of tedious paperwork. Both options are technically good ones but pursuing extra money at the cost of happiness may not be worth it.”

And, he continues, “many people have fewer realistic choices available to them than required to fully engage with the DWYL message. For them the best achievable goal may to avoid something they hate or find value in tasks they don’t particularly like.”

So, what to do?

Matos suggests the following:

1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t stay in a job you hate just because you can’t find one you love. The economy is extremely tight but it may be possible to get more of what you need to be happier even if you can’t get everything you want. Jobs you hate can bleed you of hope and energy making you feel more trapped than you may really be.

2. Ask why you hate your job?

* The work itself: Working solely for the money is never fulfilling. Make sure you and the people who you want to celebrate and recognize your contributions (your family, friends, coworkers, and employer) know how you contribute to the bigger picture. Changing diapers sucks but raising the workforce of the future is worthwhile. The task gains value from contributing to the goal. Reminding yourself that you work for what money can buy and the bigger goals that your work supports can help draw more value from jobs and tasks you may not like.

Employers should discuss their more unpopular jobs in the context of how they affect the business rather than how easy or hard it is to replace people. For example, the janitor is more highly respected if his work is described as the essential task of providing a clean and attractive environment in which to engage potential clients rather than as low skilled, low wage labor that is easily replaced. Not only does it enhance the dignity with which they engage with their employees but it also enhances their understanding of the strategic value of otherwise undervalued tasks.

* The people: It’s often said that people leave managers, not the job. People often underestimate the impact of toxic cultures on their work experiences. You may find that your work is more pleasant if the environment in which you do it is more respectful. Changing employers may be worthwhile, even if you keep doing the same tasks.

Employers should create cultures of respect and trust where employees feel connected to their work environment. The alternative is negative cultures where employees are disengaged and more prone to absenteeism and turnover because their managers or coworkers are unpleasant. Just saying unpleasant experiences and high turnover are inherent aspects of certain jobs is both poor ethics and poor business. Even if turnover or absenteeism costs are low, it’s a waste of money to pay any of those costs for want of a dignified manner of engaging with all your employees.

“DWYL is an admonition for a lifetime of jobs and efforts, “ Matos contends, “not any particular employment experience. There may be times when you do work you hate to achieve a purpose you love.”

The best approach, he adds, is to “make employment decisions looking at the big picture not just the immediate moment.”

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