Have you ever wondered why do we have to work? What is work and why does working seem so natural in every country in the world? Is it normal, natural, and healthy?

We were part of the jungle, not too long ago. I say not too long ago, because 30 or 40.000 years is not too long from the perspective of our planet’s age. What was it like to wander in the African savannah or in the Siberian plateau back then? And then about 5 or 6000 years ago working became a thing starting with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, but it was not until the time of the Industrial Revolution when full-time jobs became part of people’s lives. And then here we are today, where work is everywhere, so are our bills, taxes, and pension schemes.

So why do we spend so much of our free time committing to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to work? Some of us are looking for fulfillment, but not so many of us believe that fulfillment can be confused with monetary gratification. Consider the following question when asked to someone on his or her deathbed:

What do you wish you would have spent more time doing?

I doubt that they would say they would have been better off spending more time eating peanut butter sandwiches, or playing on PlayStation? Although, I guess a tiny minority of us would not mind these activities to do all their lives. I think most of us would opt to say something like:

I wish I had spent more time making something meaningful, like studying to be an ornithologist to help different bird species to survive this era of global warming.


I wish I could spend more time with my loved ones and build everlastingly beautiful memories together.

The Greeks have a word for this, and it is eudaimonia, it is more accurately understood as a concept of human flourishing or well-being that goes beyond simply feeling good or experiencing pleasure. And to get there we are required to cultivate virtues such as wisdom, courage, justice, and self-control, and living a life of purpose and meaning. We over the millennia have become accustomed to being part of an organization, of a religious cult, of a nation or of an international establishment because we think we can achieve more joining something bigger than us for the greater good of mankind. We are very much aware of the values of companies they stand for, and we are very much disgusted to see and realize that some of the companies play lip-service to their values (Ferber et al., 2004). We are happy to remain with the company if they stay true to their values and attitudes. In a way, when we say this is a good city to be and live in, or this is a good university to study, or these are good people to remain friends with them, we are saying that we are fulfilled by doing so.

We in the west have incorporated the Roman way of virtues, think veritas (honesty), so when your manager is honest about the services or products you are offering to customers it leads to a higher reputation(Gruen & Starr, 1972) . You know this when your customers are coming back to you to purchase more of your products and services. But a balance between honesty and diplomacy needs to be kept. You don’t want a boss who is too honest with you, hurting your feelings will plunge your morale down below underground, your self-esteem and productivity follows shortly after that.

How about equity, safety, and providence? Yes, you have heard of them, thanks to the Romans again, these values are now part of most organizations. Most? Not so sure though! If we travel to the other side of our blue planet, we land into the land of fire unleashing dragons and the smiling Buddha. Indeed, in the place of Confucius (Haberman & Fragment, 2012) the way people do business there is a bit different, they tend to place higher emphasis on superior and subordinate relationships. Between the ruler and the subjects, parents and children, husband and wife, teacher, and student.

Is there justice and harmony between rulers and subordinates, or is it all authoritarian there, you may ask? This blog is probably not the best to discuss and to give a fair answer to this question but let us concentrate on the brighter side: it works. At least in principle, this is not about a submissive consent of the weak to the strong, but rather a call for mutual respect and working together for the common good. I can imagine such a workplace where workers towards what is right, rather than what is advantageous and to practice reciprocity (de Ven et al., 1983). Can you?

You may ponder, how does a company in the far east sell its products and services? If you always do what is right, then how do you make big profit? Think Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. Is it right to sell ‘diabetes’ or ‘obesity’? In the west we are drawn into charisma. The charisma of a product for instance, the lush and specialty that comes with it. Another thing we are drawn into is knowledge, think educational and entertaining services such as YouTube or Netflix, we love to be entertained and enlightened.

Yet then, in the far east they love to do the right thing and stay calm. Indeed, an old Hindu legend depicts this precisely:
The master sits under a tree and the pupil sits right beside him. The master is 17 years old, whereas the pupil is 70 years old. The master just sits there and stays in silence. The pupil enthusiastically listens to the silence of his master and all his doubts disappear.

Age, knowledge, entertainment and even honesty play lesser roles, whereas reciprocity and harmony play more.

But then in our western world companies we like the idea of charity and giving, think the Co-Op group, it’s not just food selling, it’s how they are selling, by promoting sustainability and fair trade. Or Lush, a cosmetics and skincare, but it is not just about lush, they care about packaging waste, and they stand up for environmental causes.

We indeed are interested in the vision and the mission of a company, slogans and logos are nice, but we are inclined to see what is behind big words, and we can only see theory in practice if we observe the day-to-day practices of corporations, companies, and local firms (Utami & Hasan, 2021). Moreover, we want to be treated with respect as employees. In a transactional management style, the management is like authoritative parenting style. And this kind of parenting style leads to children who are cooperative and socially responsible. While these traits are welcomed, who is this kind of management for? Well, this style is for employees who are looking for a sense of security and predictability, as employees know what is expected of them and what they will receive in return for meeting those expectations. Or is this really for them? At McDonald’s the procedures are simple, you start your day by flipping burgers and you end the day doing the same. Amazon is the same, you pick and pack all day long. But I truly wonder, are these workers not exploiting themselves? They are constantly fighting to just make ends meet, by the time they go home they are too tired to do anything more creative. Certainly, in the western countries companies no longer exploit employees because they are free to change their jobs anytime, no strings attached. The situation sadly may be different in places like Bangladesh or Moldova.

We have come a long way; we value organizations who treat us as individuals and not just a pair of hands, autonomy means innovation (van Dorssen-Boog et al., 2020), it means placing us in jobs which allow us to do what we can do our best. And a company that values its employees, values its customers as well. It is a useful chain reaction; in other words, we are looking for a company where the spirit of the law transcends the letter of law. And let us not forget diversity and inclusion, employees may value diversity and inclusivity, recognizing and respecting the differences in background, perspectives, and experiences among colleagues and customers. An uncomplicated example is the service-based industry, like tourism and hospitality, think better customer service. Having a diverse team can help an organization to better understand and serve its diverse customer base. Employees from diverse backgrounds can bring a variety of perspectives and cultural understanding to their work, enabling them to better meet the needs of customers.

Overall, working for a good company is like studying in a good school (Elias & Weissberg, 2000), where the intent of the school is more than just teaching you to multiply and conjugate verbs, or giving you a diploma as a celebration of your achievements. It teaches us good behavior and helps us become the adults we want to be; it’s a fulfilling journey to become a lifelong learner. Our workplace should be the continuation of our school, here we are welcome to use our knowledge to create value which ultimately is by the people, and for the people. Lifelong learning meets lifelong value creation.


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