A few days ago, I received an email from LinkedIn inviting me to participate in a survey. The title of the mail said: Beate, what do you find valuable about your work? – “Good question!” – I thought to myself. I hadn’t thought about that for a long time. Yet this is certainly one of the central questions when it comes to what activities and in what functions someone feels “in the right place” – and in which they do not.
When we think of the “value of work”, we usually first think of the financial aspect. This has already been dealt with in books by Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and many others. And the Süddeutsche Zeitung also commented on the topic of top management salaries under the title “They get more than they deserve”1. But let’s leave the money aside – what do we feel is valuable about our work?
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this topic is what I don’t want my work to be: I don’t want to produce or sell something that, at least in my personal view, the world doesn’t need. (That’s why I would be out of place at a luxury fashion label, for example – but they wouldn’t hire me dressed the way I am!) And I don’t want to spend all day discussing visions, long-term goals and vague possibilities (I’m too practical and lack imagination for that).
But let’s look at it the other way round: What is the value of my work? Is it exciting? Yes, sometimes, but not always. Is it sexy – in the sense that I am immediately surrounded by a group of listeners agog when I tell them what I do for a living? No! Is it communicative? Mostly. Is it useful? Yes! And that, for me, is what makes the value of my work. I am convinced that I am doing something useful because “my” company is doing something useful and I am contributing to it. And that’s why not every working day has to be a perfect day for me, and my work can sometimes be boring, unspectacular, hectic or demanding.
Fortunately, a lot of people have useful jobs or activities (again, according to my subjective assessment), but many still seem to feel that their work is a kind of deprivation of freedom.
Some time ago I attended a reunion of my high school year. It was a nice day with interesting conversations. Most of the former classmates (and me too) had turned 60 that year – and there was one thing that shocked me a bit: the large proportion of “And how long do you have to go?” conversations. I learned a lot – I now know when the earliest retirement (with or without deductions on your pension) is possible in the police, the town council, as a nurse, teacher or university lecturer (without being forced to do so by your physical or mental condition). This was not uninteresting at first, but in the course of the evening it degenerated into some former classmates sitting together and comparing retirement tables and supplementary pensions on their mobile phones. At that point, I sat down at another table.
Looking forward to retirement is all well and good – but you shouldn’t overdo it either! I don’t want to present myself here as more dynamic than I am: Of course, I too have moments when I think about the time “afterwards”. (And so does my husband! He is already a pensioner and already fears that I will then unnecessarily interfere with managing the household). But at least I don’t think about it every morning when I get up and I’m not yet counting the days until I retire. Personally, it helps me to still enjoy sitting at my desk (most of the time): the value of my work.
Original text: BBR
English translation: BCO