Why We Love To Hate Work

Most people complain about their jobs. According to Scott Adams, the reason why the Dilbert comic strip is so successful is largely attributable to its workplace setting and themes. Adams has said that switching the setting from Dilbert's home to his office was when the strip really started to take off.  We all love to laugh about how much our jobs suck – it’s a universal theme.

The fact that this is so commonplace makes it easy for employers to wonder why they should care about their people. A recent Forbes article cites that 48% of employees worldwide don’t even like their jobs, more than 80% of US workers feel stressed at the office, and only 30% feel “engaged and inspired” by their careers. Especially troubling for leaders and business owners, 18% are actively disengaged – that is, present at work but hating every minute of it. These numbers carry a heavy price tag. Gallup estimates in their annual State of the Workforce report that the US spends a half-trillion dollars on disengaged employees. With all of unhappiness running rampant in our workplaces, it appears that loving to hate work is here to stay.

So, why this sad relationship with something that is supposed to be the key to our longevity and happiness? According to Howard S. Friedman, PhD, co-author with Leslie Martin, PhD, of the 2011 book The Longevity Project, “People are being given rotten advice to slow down, take it easy, stop worrying and retire to Florida. The Longevity Project discovered that those who worked the hardest lived the longest. The responsible and successful achievers thrived in every way, especially if they were dedicated to things and people beyond themselves.”

Still here? I expected you to stop reading after I just told you that retiring in the sun was bad for you. Nope, this isn’t the blog post that confirms (with SCIENCE!) that drinking wine every day is good for you. This is the post that explores why we’re disengaged, when our work is supposed to heavily influence our state of being. And, may be one of the healthiest attributes to longevity.

The question now becomes, how do we stop hating work?

Let’s start by exploring what makes us dislike our jobs in the first place. What sets us on a path to disengagement? Can we blame it on the workplace? Our managers? Is it the company we work for? Are we burnt out? Did we choose the wrong career

According to Dilbert, it’s the total and utter apathy of his peers that sends his necktie for a spin.

Apathy comic strip

Sadly, Dilbert makes a pretty strong case. Why should he care if no one else does?

According to Gallup’s broader study of the Global workforce, only 13% are engaged, about 20 percent are actively disengaged and the rest are just putting in their time. This stat is hugely significant because it translates into billions of people who are entirely apathetic about their work, their role and their value. This is a very sad state of affairs for the global workforce and for humankind in general.

So back to the question, who or what is responsible for this level of apathy when it relates to our work?

According to Dr. Vanessa Buote in her White Paper, What Employees Value at Work, her research shows that the most engaged employees are the ones who don’t care as much about pay and perks. According to Dr. Buote, “For some employees, their job is a pay check; another day, another dollar. When employees are focused on the tangible, external rewards of their job, they may be less intrinsically motivated to give their job their all. Not only are they less satisfied, but these employees are also less engaged. “

What our research is teaching us at Plasticity Labs is that authentic engagement can be achieved but it requires many points of stimulants and intention all the way up to the leadership level. We also see that many employers are looking for that silver bullet solution – a way for them to just wipe out apathy and give everyone that passionate desire for work. Unfortunately, scientific research continues to prove that a silver bullet answer to the engagement crisis is about as likely as getting Donald Trump to shave his head.

Now that we know a one-size-fits-all solution is out of the question, the next step is to determine what an engaged culture looks like and what an unhappy culture looks like as well. One of the benefits of recent advancements in technology is the ability to measure how people feel about their jobs. We can now ask them if they are apathetic, how happy they are at work and at home, what motivates them, are they optimistic about the future of the company, what ignites a fire in their belly and can we stoke that fire to create more excitement in their current role? The amount of learning we can glean from each other is infinite. And, that knowledge can fuel passion, which turns into creative thinking, innovation, enthusiasm, sense of contribution and more.

By asking more frequently what motivates people, we can see how their interests change over time. Novelty is a major driver of happiness so repetition at work can very quickly demotivate even the highest engaged employees. A way to remedy that is to learn more about what makes people tick and think about customizing your engagement strategies to the individual. Again, new technology can do this for us even if that seems impossible – we just need to be aware of the tools.

Before I leave you to ponder how you can hate work less, or help someone else to stop hating Mondays, here are a couple takeaways to make your days better. And, maybe if we’re lucky, make hating work a little less desirable for someone else.

  • A few times a year, bring someone unexpected from a totally different department to a strategy meeting. Get some fresh perspective from a new source.
  • Weekly, ask someone new a simple question. What is your favourite non-work thing to do? You’ll learn so much about the passions that live outside the workplace – you never know, one day it may inspire a new way to solve a problem at work?
  • Start a book club about a problem that requires solving at a high-level. Get people to share their feedback and solutions to help meet a broad organizational goal. Feeling part of the greater plan of any company, big or small, makes us feel like we are all on the same team.


For more tips on how to make work suck less, email me at jen@plasticitylabs.com or share your thoughts on how you make your workplace awesome below! I will share them in an upcoming post. You can also see more of our research here.

Jennifer Moss