There is Value in Work

By | August 11, 2022

[August 11, 2022]  People work so they can at least have basic shelter from the elements so that they don’t starve, and to protect their family from privations.  That is a negative way of viewing work.  But work is routine, commitment, and meaning.  There is, indeed, value in work for many.

A psychologist (who I cannot remember his name) wrote an article criticizing the idea of universal basic income.  He studies the idea of “meaning” in people’s lives.  He criticized it because he noted, for example, that one thing that drives people to suicide is the idea that they’re a non-functioning burden on others.  So, imagine a portion of the population, and you say to them, “We can’t think of anything useful for you to do, but it would not be good to watch you starve, so here’s some money.”

Many people, especially those who are conscientious (as many of us are), would respond with great despair.  That raises the critical ethical question of whether we must care for dispossessed people.  That’s a complicated problem.  Merely giving people money is not a practical or necessarily helpful solution (as in the universal basic income idea).

The dignity of work, there is a fundamental need.  We are like pack animals; we need to feel we are doing our part.  And, some people derive their entire meaning from their work, doing their part for the pack.  Many people who have nothing to do, they are in the depths of despair.  It’s not in their nature not to work.  They cannot withstand the loss of purpose and mission.

Plenty of scientific literature shows that conscientious people who lose their jobs become depressed.  These people need a purpose.  It’s not optional for them.  They would shrivel up and die if they could only sit on the beach, soaking up the sun and drinking margaritas all day.

Dr. Jordan Peterson worked with the Naval Academy that wanted him to see if he could help them select cadets for creativity and not just conscientiousness.  They wanted independent thinkers who could quickly come up with new solutions, the kind of things creative people can do.  What he discovered was that the military is primarily suited to conscientious people.

If you are open and creative, that works in the military if you are in an advanced leadership role.  But the question is, how do you get there?  Because if you are not highly conscientious, you’ll have trouble as you rise through the ranks.  Lots of companies have this same problem.  At the low end, conscientiousness is vital, and creativeness is disruptive.

This study by Dr. Peterson shows how valuable work can be but that it is not simply work in and of itself that is the motivator.  Personality traits matter.


Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “There is Value in Work

  1. Unwoke Dude

    Another enjoyable article from the archives of Gen. Satterfield. Read it with pleasure. That’s why I spend much of my time studying people and reading this leadership blog.

    1. Wild Bill

      Glad that we are here and learning to be better leaders and, more importantly, better human beings. 😊😊😊😊😊

  2. Tracey Brockman

    Lack of job = meaninglessness. That leads to depression and despair.

  3. Emma Archambeau

    Without work and family you have nothing. That is why blacks in America are so downtrodden. They have few jobs and they are destroying their own families.

    1. mainer

      People might call you a “racist” for that comment but I see where you are coming from. Take away meaning in folks lives and they will resort to suicide, crime, and violence as a substitute (or reaction).

    2. Big Al

      Emma, on target here but maybe we could say that about all people, not just blacks, although blacks are having a harder go of it.

  4. Janna Faulkner

    What gives our lives meaning? That is a great question and “work” is partly the answer, but only part.

    1. Liz at Home

      In this article Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

  5. Eye Cat

    This is very true, “If you are open and creative, that works in the military if you are in an advanced leadership role. But the question is, how do you get there? Because if you are not highly conscientious, you’ll have trouble as you rise through the ranks. Lots of companies have this same problem. At the low end, conscientiousness is vital, and creativeness is disruptive.”

  6. Max Foster

    Gen. Satterfield has, once again, outdone himself with this article. Altho I’m not so sure which way he was headed, and i think the article could use another more detailed explanation, it does get to the heart of the fact that work provides intrinsic meaning in people’s lives. Whether that work is a job, career, family, or volunteer ‘work’ we have the same thing among those who produce the most.

    1. Mikka Solarno

      I’d like to know more about the results of the Naval Academy study. Is there a way to get those findings?

  7. Forrest Gump

    — as well, there are people who avoid work like it was a deadly plague.

      1. Willie Strumburger

        Too good to be true. Most folks are conscientious but a few are just lazy SOBs.

        1. Dead Pool Guy

          That was one of the more interesting articles and one I cannot forget.

          1. Billy Kenningston

            Yep, and more fine work by Gen. Satterfield. Don’t you just love this site. I will also be the one today hawking his book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq.” Get your copy today.

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