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MY FIRST, CHARMED week as a student at HarvardBusiness School, late in the summer of 2001, felt likea halcyon time for capitalism. AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and Napster were benevolently connecting theworld. Enron and WorldCom were bringinginnovation to hidebound industries. PresidentGeorge W. Bush — an H.B.S. graduate himself — had promised to deliver progress and prosperitywith businesslike efficiency.

2001年夏末,我作为哈佛商学院学生度过的第一周十分愉快,感觉像是资本主义的一段昔日美好时光。美国在线时代华纳(AOL Time Warner)、雅虎(Yahoo)和纳普斯特(Napster)好心地连接着世界。安然(Enron)和世界通信公司(WorldCom)为墨守成规的行业带来了创新。乔治·W·布什总统——他本人也是哈佛商学院的毕业生——曾承诺要以务实的效率实现进步和繁荣。

The next few years would prove how little we (and Washington and much of corporateAmerica) really understood about the economy and the world. But at the time, for the 895 first-years preparing ourselves for business moguldom, what really excited us was our good luck. AHarvard M.B.A. seemed like a winning lottery ticket, a gilded highway to world-changinginfluence, fantastic wealth and — if those self-satisfied portraits that lined the hallways wereany indication — a lifetime of deeply meaningful work.


So it came as a bit of a shock, when I attended my 15th reunion last summer, to learn howmany of my former classmates weren’t overjoyed by their professional lives — in fact, theywere miserable. I heard about one fellow alum who had run a large hedge fund until beingsued by investors (who also happened to be the fund manager’s relatives). Another person hadrisen to a senior role inside one of the nation’s most prestigious companies before beingsavagely pushed out by corporate politics. Another had learned in the maternity ward that herfirm was being stolen by a conniving partner.


Those were extreme examples, of course. Most of us were living relatively normal, basicallycontent lives. But even among my more sanguine classmates, there was a lingering sense ofprofessional disappointment. They talked about missed promotions, disaffected childrenand billable hours in divorce court. They complained about jobs that were unfulfilling, tediousor just plain bad. One classmate described having to invest $5 million a day — which didn’tsound terrible, until he explained that if he put only $4 million to work on Monday, he had toscramble to place $6 million on Tuesday, and his co-workers were constantly undermining oneanother in search of the next promotion. It was insanely stressful work, done among peoplehe didn’t particularly like. He earned about $1.2 million a year and hated going to the office.


“I feel like I’m wasting my life,” he told me. “When I die, is anyone going to care that I earnedan extra percentage point of return? My work feels totally meaningless.” He recognized theincredible privilege of his pay and status, but his anguish seemed genuine. “If you spend12 hours a day doing work you hate, at some point it doesn’t matter what your paycheck says,” he told me. There’s no magic salary at which a bad job becomes good. He had received an offerat a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt lockedinto a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible. “My wife laughed when I told her about it,” he said.


After our reunion, I wondered if my Harvard class — or even just my own friends there — werean anomaly. So I began looking for data about the nation’s professional psyche. What Ifound was that my classmates were hardly unique in their dissatisfaction; even in a boomeconomy, a surprising portion of Americans are professionally miserable right now. In themid-1980s, roughly 61 percent of workers told pollsters they were satisfied with their jobs. Since then, that number has declined substantially, hovering around half; the low point was in2010, when only 43 percent of workers were satisfied, according to data collected by theConference Board, a nonprofit research organization. The rest said they were unhappy, or atbest neutral, about how they spent the bulk of their days. Even among professionals given tolofty self-images, like those in medicine and law, other studies have noted a rise indiscontent. Why? Based on my own conversations with classmates and the research I beganreviewing, the answer comes down to oppressive hours, political infighting, increasedcompetition sparked by globalization, an “always-on culture” bred by the internet — but alsosomething that’s hard for these professionals to put their finger on, an underlying sense thattheir work isn’t worth the grueling effort they’re putting into it.

在我们重聚之后,我想知道我在哈佛的同班同学——哪怕只是我在班上的朋友——的情况是否属于异常。于是我开始寻找这个国家职业心理的有关数据。结果发现,我同学的不满并非特例;即使在经济繁荣的时期,也有比例高得让人吃惊的一部分美国人存在职业痛苦。在20世纪80年代中期,大约61%的员工对自己的工作感到满意。从那以后,这个数字大幅下降,在50%左右徘徊;最低是在2010年,只有43%的员工感到满意,以上数据来自世界大型企业联合会(Conference Board)。其余的人则说,他们大多数时候都对工作不开心,或者最多也就是不确定。甚至是在赋予崇高自我形象的专业人士当中,比如医学和法律从业者,其他的一些研究也注意到了他们身上不满情绪的上升。为什么会这样呢?根据我跟同学的对话,以及开始查阅的研究,答案可以归结为难以忍受的工作时数、政治内耗、全球化带来的竞争加剧、互联网孕育出的“永远在线文化”——但还有这些职场人士也说不清的原因,那是一种隐隐的感觉——他们的工作不值得他们投入那么多辛苦。

This wave of dissatisfaction is especially perverse because corporations now have access todecades of scientific research about how to make jobs better. “We have so much evidenceabout what people need,” says Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at theUniversity of Pennsylvania (and a contributing opinion writer at The Times). Basic financialsecurity, of course, is critical — as is a sense that your job won’t disappear unexpectedly. What’s interesting, however, is that once you can provide financially for yourself and yourfamily, according to studies, additional salary and benefits don’t reliably contribute to workersatisfaction. Much more important are things like whether a job provides a sense ofautonomy — the ability to control your time and the authority to act on your uniqueexpertise. People want to work alongside others whom they respect (and, optimally, enjoyspending time with) and who seem to respect them in return.

这种不满情绪之所以尤其反常,是因为企业现在可以接触到数十年来关于如何改善工作的科学研究。宾夕法尼亚大学(University of Pennsylvania)的管理学和心理学教授、同时也是《纽约时报》观点文章撰稿人的亚当·格兰特(Adam Grant)表示,“关于人们的需求,我们有大量证据。”当然,基本的财务安全是至关重要的,同样重要的是工作饭碗的安全感。然而,有趣的是,根据多项研究,一旦你能为自己和家人提供经济上的支持,额外的工资和福利并不一定会提高员工的满意度。更重要的事情是,诸如工作是否能提供自主权——能够控制时间的能力,以及根据自己的独特专长行事的权力。人们希望与他们尊重的人一起工作(最好还能一起消磨时间),以及对方似乎也尊重他们。

And finally, workers want to feel that their labors are meaningful. “You don’t have to be curingcancer,” says Barry Schwartz, a visiting professor of management at the University ofCalifornia, Berkeley. We want to feel that we’re making the world better, even if it’s as small amatter as helping a shopper find the right product at the grocery store. “You can be asalesperson, or a toll collector, but if you see your goal as solving people’s problems, theneach day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone’s life, and your satisfactionincreases dramatically,” Schwartz says.

最后,员工想要感到他们付出的劳动是有意义的。“你不需要是在治愈癌症,”加州大学伯克利分校(Universityof California, Berkeley)管理学访问教授巴里·施瓦茨(Barry Schwartz)说。我们想要感到我们在让世界变得更好,即便只是像帮购物者在杂货店找到对的产品这样的小事情。“你可以是一名销售,或收费员,但如果你把你的目标看成是帮人解决问题,那么每天都会有100个机会帮助他人改善生活,而且你的满足感会大幅提升,”施瓦茨说。

One of the more significant examples of how meaningfulness influences job satisfaction comesfrom a study published in 2001. Two researchers — Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale and Jane Dutton, now a distinguished emeritus professor at the University of Michigan — wanted to figure outwhy particular janitors at a large hospital were so much more enthusiastic than others. Sothey began conducting interviews and found that, by design and habit, some members of thejanitorial staff saw their jobs not as just tidying up but as a form of healing. One woman, forinstance, mopped rooms inside a brain-injury unit where many residents were comatose. Thewoman’s duties were basic: change bedpans, pick up trash. But she also sometimes took theinitiative to swap around the pictures on the walls, because she believed a subtlestimulation change in the unconscious patients’ environment might speed their recovery. She talked to other convalescents about their lives. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” shetold the researchers. “That is not really part of my job description, but I like putting on a showfor them.” She would dance around, tell jokes to families sitting vigil at bedsides, try to cheerup or distract everyone from the pain and uncertainty that otherwise surrounded them. In a2003 study led by the researchers, another custodian described cleaning the same room twotimes in order to ease the mind of a stressed-out father.

表明意义如何影响工作满意度的一个更显著的例子,来自2001年发表的一项研究。两名研究人员——耶鲁大学的艾米·沃兹涅夫斯基(Amy Wrzesniewski)和如今为密歇根大学(University of Michigan)杰出荣休教授的珍·达顿(Jane Dutton)——想要弄明白为何一家大医院的某些保洁员比其他人更有干劲。于是她们开始进行访谈。她们发现,出于设计和习惯,保洁职工中的一些成员将他们的工作视为不仅是清洁,也是一种治疗的形式。例如,一位女保洁员要拖脑损伤病房的地板,那里很多住院病人都昏迷不醒。这位女性的职责很简单:换便盆、捡垃圾。但有时候她也会主动擦拭墙上的画,因为她相信,昏迷病人环境中一个微妙的刺激改变也可能帮他们加速恢复。她跟其他康复患者聊他们的生活。“我很喜欢让病人开心,”她告诉研究人员。“这其实并不属于我的岗位职责,但我喜欢为他们表演一番。”她会来回舞动,给在床边守夜的家人讲讲笑话,尽量让每个人振作起来,或让他们暂时忘掉平日笼罩在身上的疼痛与不确定感。在两位研究员所领导的一项2003年的研究中,另一名护工谈及把同一房间清洁两次,以便让一位压力过重的父亲能够放松心神。

To some, the moral might seem obvious: If you see your job as healing the sick, rather thanjust swabbing up messes, you’re likely to have a deeper sense of purpose whenever you grabthe mop. But what’s remarkable is how few workplaces seem to have internalized this simplelesson. “There are so many jobs where people feel like what they do is relatively meaningless,” Wrzesniewski says. “Even for well-paid positions, or jobs where you assume workers feel asense of meaning, people feel like what they’re doing doesn’t matter.” That’s certainly true formy miserable classmate earning $1.2 million a year. Even though, in theory, the investmentshe makes each day help fund pensions — and thus the lives of retirees — it’s pretty hard to seethat altruism from his window office in a Manhattan skyscraper. “It’s just numbers on ascreen to me,” he told me. “I’ve never met a retiree who enjoyed a vacation because of what Ido. It’s so theoretical it hardly seems real.”


THERE IS A raging debate — on newspaper pages, inside Silicon Valley, among presidentialhopefuls — as to what constitutes a “good job.” I’m an investigative business reporter, and so Ihave a strange perspective on this question. When I speak to employees at a company, it’susually because something has gone wrong. My stock-in-trade are sources who feel theiremployers are acting unethically or ignoring sound advice. The workers who speak to me arewilling to describe both the good and the bad in the places where they work, in the hope thatwe will all benefit from their insights.


What’s interesting to me, though, is that these workers usually don’t come across as unhappy. When they agree to talk to a journalist — to share confidential documents or help readersunderstand how things went awry — it’s not because they hate their employers or areoverwhelmingly disgruntled. They often seem to love their jobs and admire the companiesthey work for. They admire them enough, in fact, to want to help them improve. They areengaged and content. They believe what they are doing matters — both in coming to workevery day and in blowing the whistle on problems they see.


Do these people have “good jobs”? Are they luckier or less fortunate than my $1.2 millionfriend, who couldn’t care less about his firm? Are Google employees who work 60 hours a weekbut who can eat many of their meals (or freeze their eggs) on the company’s dime moresatisfied than a start-up founder in Des Moines who cleans the office herself but sees her dreambecome reality?


As the airwaves heat up in anticipation of the 2020 election, Americans are likely to hear alot of competing views about what a “good job” entails. Some will celebrate billionaires asexamples of this nation’s greatness, while others will pillory them as evidence of an economygone astray. Through all of that, it’s worth keeping in mind that the concept of a “good job” isinherently complicated, because ultimately it’s a conversation about what we value, whether individually or collectively. Even for Americans who live frighteningly close to the bone, like the janitors studied by Wrzesniewski and Dutton, a job is usually more than just a means toa paycheck. It’s a source of purpose and meaning, a place in the world.


There’s a possibility, when it comes to understanding good jobs, that we have it all wrong. When I was speaking to my H.B.S. classmates, one of them reminded me about some people atour reunion who seemed wholly unmiserable — who seemed, somewhat to their own surprise, to have wound up with jobs that were both financially and emotionally rewarding. I knew ofone person who had become a prominent venture capitalist; another friend had started aretail empire that expanded to five states; yet another was selling goods all over the world. There were some who had become investors running their own funds.


And many of them had something in common: They tended to be the also-rans of the class, theones who failed to get the jobs they wanted when they graduated. They had been passed overby McKinsey & Company and Google, Goldman Sachs and Apple, the big venture-capitalfirms and prestigious investment houses. Instead, they were forced to scramble for work — and thus to grapple, earlier in their careers, with the trade-offs that life inevitably demands. These late bloomers seemed to have learned the lessons about workplace meaning preached bypeople like Barry Schwartz. It wasn’t that their workplaces were enlightened or (as far as Icould tell) that H.B.S. had taught them anything special. Rather, they had learned from theirown setbacks. And often they wound up richer, more powerful and more content than everyoneelse.


That’s not to wish genuine hardship on any American worker, given that a setback for a pooror working-class person can lead to bankruptcy, hunger or worse. But for those who do findthemselves miserable at work, it’s an important reminder that the smoothest life pathssometimes fail to teach us about what really brings us satisfaction day to day. A core goal ofcapitalism is evaluating and putting a price on risk. In our professional lives, we hedgeagainst misfortune by taking out insurance policies in the form of fancy degrees, savingagainst rainy days by pursuing careers that promise stability. Nowadays, however, stability isincreasingly scarce, and risk is harder to measure. Many of our insurance policies haveturned out to be worth as much as Enron.


“I’m jealous of everyone who had the balls to do something that made them happy,” my $1.2 million friend told me. “It seemed like too big a risk for me to take when we were at school.” But as one of the also-rans myself — I applied to McKinsey, to private-equity firms and to areal estate conglomerate and was rejected by them all — I didn’t need any courage inmaking the decision to go into the modest-paying (by H.B.S. standards) field of journalism. Some of my classmates thought I was making a huge mistake by ignoring all the doors H.B.S. had opened for me in high finance and Silicon Valley. What they didn’t know was that thosedoors, in fact, had stayed shut — and that as a result, I was saved from the temptation ofeasy riches. I’ve been thankful ever since, grateful that my bad luck made it easier to choose aprofession that I’ve loved. Finding meaning, whether as a banker or a janitor, is difficult work. Usually life, rather than a business-school classroom, is the place to learn howto do it.


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