What are the benefits of work? An alternative perspective

What are the benefits of work? An alternative perspective

For some, work is just a means to an end. It helps pay the bills and helps people to live the life they want to in their free time. But does it need to be this way? Could the benefits of work be reframed so employees engage in their day-to-day job? Taz Rajabali, Founder and CEO of Melius Consulting, discusses the benefits of work and how to reduce disengagement.

What are the benefits of work? Well firstly, let us understand the fortuitous and luxurious position of such consideration! Many hundreds of millions will never be so lucky as to ask nor require an answer to this question. Instead for them, work simply yet critically permits the continuance of life.

And so, from this most fortunate of positions, let us consider not only its benefits, but also whether one should even participate.

Why go to work? A question many have asked themselves recently, particularly in the aftermath of 2019. And indeed, as verified by the record numbers of unfulfilled vacancies around the world, a question for which many have struggled to find a suitably convincing answer.

Are they missing out? Is there something beyond the obvious yet crucial benefit of compensation to encourage us to consider and perhaps even appreciate what the world of work has to offer?

To explore the question at hand, we must first establish a simple baseline of understanding when referring to the term, ‘world of work’. For the purposes of this brief, let us not differentiate between being employed, or self-employed, however that may be structured. Let us also specify that, for our purposes today, we focus our thoughts on paid labour and not the broader definition of ‘work’ which may include parenting or running a home, for example.

With that clear, we turn our attention to our trusted friend Mr. Maslow and his rather famous Hierarchy of Needs. Needs lower down in the pyramid must be satisfied before people can attend to needs higher up. At the bottom of the pyramid comes Physiological Needs: including air, water, food, shelter, clothing and reproduction, next up Safety Needs: personal security, employment, resources, health, property. Love & Belonging comes next: friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection. Followed by Esteem: respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom. And at the top -Self-Actualisation: desire to become the most that one can be.

All needs met?

Without the need for extensive consideration, one may clearly deduce that work, in some form, benefits all that Maslow suggests. From an enablement role in Physiological Needs via a literal appearance in Safety Needs, and on towards an aspirational role in Self-Actualisation, the world of work offers, without question, opportunity for each of us to quench our needy thirsts.

And yet, it seems our relationship with work remains fragile at best. A recent study stated that 70% of employees are disengaged, an astonishing figure when you consider that over 3 billion people are employed.

To what, then, might we assign this apparent misalignment? Well, whilst certainly not suggesting a simple answer to what is clearly a complex question, a contributing factor may well be in the framing of employment benefits.

Allow me to offer an explanation.

Ask any organisational HR professional the benefits of working at said organisation, and you are likely met with a familiar list including, but not limited to, a competitive salary, career progression, learning opportunities, possible healthcare benefits, paid annual leave and so on and so forth. Whilst these benefits may offer two ‘ticks’ on the Maslow pyramid (Physiological and Safety), three remain unchecked. And perhaps herein lies our problem. Were we to offer work benefits an alternative lens, we may reframe in such a manner as to present more comprehensively, tick more needs and perhaps, just perhaps, tackle that disengagement disaster.

To this, then, I offer a handful of alternatives from which one is likely to benefit at work:

Sense of identity – it is often the second point we make when introducing ourselves, right? “Hi, I’m XX and I am a / work in XXX.” We can accept that work is an important part of our life and often plays a pivotal role in establishing and solidifying our identity. Its absence – notable more so as a greater portion of our lives move into the virtual space – may be destabilising for many.

Independence – financial is the obvious independence benefit on offer, to some degree or another. However, thought-independence and time-independence may be greater upsides served by the world of work. The freedom to think, to debate, to discuss, to challenge and be challenged, to explore, to grow, all serve to nourish the soul and healthy work environments will recognise and amplify this important benefit.

Structured routine – those familiar with the LEAN ways of work thinking will be familiar with the argument of how structure and routine offer the mind space to contemplate other matters, hopefully of greater significance. Freeing ‘CPU’ power, if you will, from the day-to-day, via the creation of structured routine, allows the mind additional resource to apply to more fulfilling tasks. Even the mundane, it seems, has benefits!

Social interaction – perhaps highlighted best during the post-COVID era when, whilst many appreciate and have embraced the option of working remotely/from home, others have longed for and encouraged a return to work, largely to benefit from the kind of social interaction so healthy for our lifestyle and being.

Contribution to society – there are those who believe, me being one, that true fulfillment in life occurs only when one discovers a cause greater than oneself. For many, work offers this platform. An opportunity to contribute, to serve, to have impact, to make a difference far beyond our individual spheres of influence. It is not happenstance that we see more and more candidates selecting employers who have clearly outlined and participable social programmes.

One can see from the list above that, when combined with the ‘typical’ benefits associated with the workplace and the world of work, those which tick the first two of Maslow’s hierarchies, the world of work offers a strong case for its ability to contribute to the fulfillment of all our needs.

And perhaps by reframing our understanding of work benefits, we can fully unlock human potential, reduce that disengagement number and move forwards with a healthy sense of optimism.

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