Can a big paycheck lessen the pain of a boring job?
Most people tend to believe this is true, at least to an extent. But the fact is, it’s the thinking that leads to many young corporate lawyers or investment bankers’ failed careers. People radically underestimate the importance of enjoying the experience of work – and a new study from researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business show this dynamic quick clearly.
As the research showed, enjoying your job is an essential ingredient in even getting your work done – not to mention doing it well. This may seem self-evident: we’re all more prone to do something when we actually like the experience. But as it turns out, humans are pretty bad at understanding why they do what they do. We’ll all see this play out in the weeks to come as many of us fail to follow through on our New Year’s resolutions.
“People don’t realize how important the experience is after or before they are doing it,” explained Ayelet Fishbach, a professor at University of Chicago and the study’s co-author. “We found that those doing something fun persist longer than those doing something for money. People worked harder when we made the task more interesting.”
The outcome of the study is significant not just for work, but also for exercise and dieting. A person is more likely to work out if they enjoy the specific physical activity. You’re more likely to stick to an eating regimen if you like the healthy food you’ve resolved to eat.
The paper was published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; for their study, Fishbach and coauthor Kaitlin Woolley completed six experiments on college students, faculty and Chicago residents. The participants worked out, visited a museum or were given a set of tasks. The objective was to determine if people were motivated by “extrinsic” rewards (like monetary gain) or “intrinsic” rewards (pleasure and enjoyment).
In one experiment, test subjects were assigned to either read a computer manual or a joke book and then complete some evaluations. Most responded that they’d complete more of either for extra money, but those who picked reading the dull manual for pay struggled to actually follow through.
In another study, participants were given the option of listening to The Beatles song “Hey, Jude” or an alarm clock. A larger cash reward came with the alarm clock. Most chose the clock – but following the experience, the majority regretted their choice.
In short, when a task is boring or unpleasant, we struggle to complete it, regardless of the compensation. But when considering a task, people often devalue what the actual experience will be like — the “intrinsic” rewards — and focus instead on the material gain that comes from doing it.
But liking your work isn’t just about the immediate task at hand. Such experiences also involve the social environment. Do you like bantering with your colleagues over at the coffee machines? That matters. A lot.
“It’s not just doing something you love. It’s doing it with people that you like. Having a nice office environment. Having a nice experience,” Fisbach said.
Of course, choosing a profession you enjoy is a luxury only a few well-educated or well-off workers can access. Many people have few good options when it comes to work or pay. But if you do have the privilege of getting to choose around both those incentives, choose wisely.