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5 thoughts for new college grads seeking to find the right balance between meaningful work and making money

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LA Post: 5 thoughts for new college grads seeking to find the right balance between meaningful work and making money
May 15, 2024
Christopher Wong Michaelson, Professor of Ethics and Business Law, University of St. Thomas - The Conversation

Despite this record-level satisfaction, work engagement is at a 10-year low, continuing a downward trend. Employees may be compensating for a pandemic that led many people to work more hours, with at least half seeking to “quiet quit” – that is, doing the bare minimum required in their job descriptions and leaving work at work at the end of the day. Workers who are not engaged are not necessarily working fewer hours overall, but they may be less willing to bring their work home with them, literally or figuratively, or even to give their best effort during regular working hours.

Employers, meanwhile – recognizing that engaged employees generally perform better – are stuck paying more for satisfied employees who produce less. In a real-life game of “Would You Rather…?” workers should consider how they would prefer to spend the largest portion of their waking hours: being satisfied or engaged?

3. Seeking work with a purpose is a noble and understandable goal

Today’s graduates are famously considered part of the “Purpose Generation,” committed to solving the problems that prior generations have created.

Studies show that workers just entering the labor market care a lot about making a difference through their work. We have studied what it means when people view their work as a calling or have a sense that work is meaningful, all-consuming and may make the world a better place. Those with a strong calling will be more engaged and satisfied with their work and will be happier in their lives as well.

Workers should think about what problem they most want to solve, are best qualified to solve, and that they might be able to get paid to solve. There is a lot of talk about a future world without work, but the world today needs workers who are committed to a better future.

4. It is also understandable to care about money

As much as new entrants to the labor market care about meaningful work and life, data shows that they care even more about high pay and financial security. Material rewards have increased in importance over time, compared with the priorities of prior generations.

With the state of the world that graduates are entering, including soaring home prices, student debt and the threat of inflation, it is not only materially unsurprising but also morally justifiable that many workers are seeking financial stability. Although seeking money at the expense of other goals can take a toll on workers’ well-being, workers need to be cautious of employers who may attempt to exploit their passion for their work by paying less for more effort.

5. It is rare, but not impossible, to find meaningful work that pays

A woman in a red suit walks on steps that look like bars from a bar graph -- and a panoramic view of a city is in the background.
Finding purposeful work that pays is not impossible.

Although COVID led society to recognize the importance of “essential work,” such as health care and critical infrastructure, work that arguably does the most good in society, such as social service and education, is often paid the least.

Few graduates will find the perfect combination of meaning and money in the same job right out of college, but that does not mean that they cannot aspire to find both over the course of their careers – and, when they are in a position to do so someday, to pay their own employees what they are worth. As for the present, if new workforce entrants feel as though they must accept a lower than desired salary to do work that benefits society, it cannot hurt for them to ask for what they think they deserve.

Even meaningful work can lose its luster when workers feel underappreciated. At its best, however, work can make a meaningful contribution to the lives of workers and a world in need of repair.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


Source: The Conversation

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