If this question is something you wonder about as a school leader, you might want to read Tony Schwartz and Christine Porathmay’s article, Why You Hate Work, in the New York Times (Sunday Review, May 30, 2014). The authors run the Energy Project, an organization that partners with organizations to help them “create workplaces that are healthier, happier, more focused and more purposeful.” Their mission is:
to change the way the world works
We offer a new paradigm. By intentionally investing in meeting employees’ core energy needs, organizations can fuel sustainable high performance.
Their NY Times article highlights different research studies they and others have been conducted on employee work satisfaction and what changes have to be made to improve overall engagement in the workplace. This fascinating article focused on the corporate work environment has significant relevance to the frenetic pace of life in many schools. In my travels from school-to-school, I frequently interact with school leaders and teachers who find themselves disconnected from their work, frenzied, unable to focus on their core responsibilities, and not satisfied with their situation. I find a common response to a simple question about needing help with some project is, ‘I don’t have the time, I am way too busy.’ This response (or something like it) causes me wonder about the work environment in which that person lives. Why You Hate Work puts it into perspective for me and offers some instructive ways to understand what disengagement in one’s work is about and how to mitigate it from happening.
The authors write:
Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: PHYSICAL, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; EMOTIONAL, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; MENTAL, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and SPIRITUAL, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work. (emphasis is mine)
Meeting these four core needs are critical if teachers are destined to be happy and productive in their work environments. Many of these needs can be met by school leaders who intentionally try create a sense of community in their school. In his book, Building Community in Schools, Thomas Sergiovanni writes:
People are bonded to each other as a result of their mutual bindings to shared values, traditions, ideas, and ideals (p. 61).
Sergiovanni believes that we could more effectively operate schools as social communities. Because of our innate need to be connected to people, ideas, and values we crave being a member of communities that support these needs. He proposes that traditional schools do not generally make this their top priority. If we intend to truly reform schools, we may have to put greater emphasis on the importance of relationships between different members of the community. Communities are safe places where people feel connected to other people. Where the four core needs are met as a result of investment in interesting and engaging work and play.
Notice how similar the authors four core needs are to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow was one of the first psychologists to focus on what every human being needs before we are able to act on our personal or professional growth. He refers to this process as self-actualization. Self-actualized people are: problem-focused; incorporate an ongoing appreciation for life; focus on personal growth; and are able to realize peak experiences. See Maslow’s pyramid of needs below and compare it to the four core needs that Schwartz and Porathmay write about in Why You Hate Work. Clearly, the strong connection between their models suggests that all school leaders should pay close attention to creating communities where their faculty’s core needs are met.
If we are able to accomplish this, then maybe teachers will be more likely to speak about “why they love work.”