Do you perform surgeries? Do you write articles? Do you win golf tournaments, paint houses, plow farmland, or design automobiles? Those are occupations with tangible, measurable results.
These days though, many of us have jobs/careers that can only be measured by the fluctuation of our compensation. In sales, for instance, your performance and your output are only measured in terms of how you “performed” against whatever goal your manager set for you – especially if you work in a service industry where you aren’t even selling tangible objects. And there are millions of jobs where people answer phones, deliver packages, or put together hamburgers. It’s hard to derive satisfaction from repetitive work that never ends or culminates in a finished product.
Information age jobs are often similar to working out in a gym on a treadmill. Sure, you can measure how “far” you ran, and you can even get stronger. But you can only compare your progress to other performances. It’s not nearly as satisfying as competing and placing in a marathon.
There’s a great article in the Wall Street Journal today called A Modern Conundrum: When Work’s Invisible, So Are It’s Satisfactions.
Some interesting quotes from it:
Not only is work harder to measure but it’s also harder to define success. The work is intangible or invisible, and a lot of work gets done in teams so it’s difficult to pinpoint individual productivity.
Information-age employees measure their accomplishment in net worth, company reputation, networks of relationships, and the products and services they’re associated with — elements that are more perceived and subjective than that field of corn, which either is or isn’t plowed.
At closing time, work doesn’t seem completed, just temporarily abandoned.
It can be hard to find gratification from work that is largely invisible, or from delivering goods that are often metaphorical.
You can’t even leave your mark on a document in increasingly paperless offices. It can be even harder trying to measure it all. That may explain why to-do listers write down tasks they’ve already completed just to be able to cross them off.
The person doing the landscaping has a better sense of accomplishment.
Not even the marketing people could come up with a plausible explanation for why the company existed.
I have a personal anecdote on this topic. My father was a stockbroker for 15 years before I was born. Then he was a family business owner for 15 more. Technically the business didn’t even need to exist; it was created to be the wholesaler for his own father’s manufacturing business. So there wasn’t any production (just sales activity), few people to manage (a couple of sales reps and admins), and he handled all the financial elements of the business anyway (signing checks, bookkeeping, etc.). In fact we didn’t even live in the same state as the business except for 5 years.
Sure, the company grew (in terms of money coming in), and I assume everyone’s salaries did as well, but there wasn’t any actual output to measure except on historical spreadsheets. Not even any “I did X for that person.” They were simply taking parts from one company and selling them to another.
When he “retired” by selling his shares to his brother, he started searching for his next career or project (he wasn’t even 50 yet). One day he declared that he wanted to become a bricklayer. “I want to come home at the end of the day and have my back hurt – not my head,” he tried to explain. In truth, I bet he just wanted to see and bask in the day-to-day fruits of his own labor. To be able to day “I DID that, I CREATED that today” – rather than “I went to 8 meetings” or “I checked 85 emails.”
More from Meg at The World of Wealth