Jacques Attali, French economist and thinker, published a book in 2014 entitled Devenir soi (“Becoming Yourself”) that still resonates very much today. In his work, Attali explains that the challenge of today’s society is to help everyone find their own identity and give meaning to their lives. According to the author, work is an important lever to accomplish this. What’s more is that almost an entire year after the French social movement Nuit Debout, the French presidential candidate Benoît Hamon is promoting the idea of a universal basic income front and centre, only a few weeks before the presidential election. At the same time, Human Resources is questioning the idea of happiness at work: can people truly be happy at work? Does work need to make people happy?
No one really seems to agree on the subject.
The way I see it, there are two types of people.
There are those who show up to work every morning just to make a living. For these people, work is a simple livelihood. They don’t expect any particular satisfaction or disappointment from what they do. They work to live. Their real lives are elsewhere, in their private sphere, in their leisure and family life.
Does work need to make people happy?
On the contrary, there are those who live to work. These people see work as a real sense of accomplishment, and want to be truly engaged with their company.
Today, Human Resources has to deal with these two types of people. Many companies try to force a ‘happiness at work’ culture, taking inspiration from Google’s groundbreaking model, to blindly foster employee engagement, improve employee experience at all cost, and impose work as an important achievement factor.
Human Resources needs to realise that these two types of people can coexist and that it is their job to offer them different work experiences. I’m not saying that one type is better than the other, but there are definitely different ways of going about understanding these two types of people. So, enough about happiness at work! Not everyone wants to create a start-up, do freelance work, or have a ‘slash career’. Many of us simply prefer having someone telling us what to do. Period.
As individuals, the question we need to honestly ask ourselves is: What category do I fit into? What does work mean to me? What kind of experience am I looking for when I step into my company?