What Does Work Mean to People?
A group of people from different walks of life are being interviewed about what role vork plays in their lives. Their attitudes, as we can see, vary.
Interviewer: Mr. Fisher, you are an accountant and earn a good enough salary to
enable you to live comfortably. What does your work mean to you?
Mr. Fisher: I regard it as a means to an end. Basically I'm a family man, and as
long as I have a job which enables me to earn enough money to live
well, I'm happy. I find a comfortable life compensates or the fact
that I have a routine life and three weeks holiday per year.
Interviewer: So in fact, you don't really mind what you do for a living?
Mr. Fisher: I didn't say that. I wouldn't want to be a manual worker, for
instance.I enjoy my profession up to a point,but it certainly doesn't
rule my life. As soon as I get home I forget about the office.
I suppose you could say I work to live.
Interviewer: Miss Burnes - as a school teacher in a working class area of London,
how do.you feel about Mr. Fisher's attitude towards his work?
Miss Burnes: Personally,I couldn't work to live. I must enjoy whatever I do-even
if the salary is low--otherwise I feel it isn't worth doing.
Mr.Fisher: Of course Miss Burnes, you do have long holidays which must be a
great compensation. Also, you aren't married and therefore have no
Miss Burnes: Being single has nothing to do with it! Even if I were married I' d
still have to have a fulfilling profession.
Interviewer: In other words, Miss Burnes, work plays one of the most important
roles in your life?
Miss Burnes: Definitely! It gives me the mental satisfaction I need and a role in
society. Contrary to Mr. Fisher, I can say that I live to work.
Interviewer: Of course, Mr.Fisher is employed by a company and Miss Burnes by a
school and therefore both have a certain amount of guaranteed
security.Mr.Evans' "history" is unusual. At the age of forty he gave
up a good job in industry to do what he had always wanted to do --
become a journalist and photographer. He's self-employed and does
freelance work. Mr. Evans, do you have any regrets?
Mr.Evans: Yes - one. That is that I didn't resign from my oth.er job when I was
Interviewer: What made you leave the business world?
Mr. Evans: Well - although I had a good salary and a job which involved a lot of
travelling abroad, I always felt I was in the wrong job.
I felt tense all the time and I suddenly realized that, in spite of
security and what seemed to my friends to be an exciting job, I' d
stopped enjoying simple but important things...'
Mr.Fisher: Don't you consider your choice rather selfish? What about your wife
Mr.Evans: They're delighted. They see the change in me - find me more relaxed,
and therefore my relationship with my wife and family has improved,
because I'm not frustrated any more. It's because I'm doing what
I want to do.
Interviewer: Do you work as hard as before?
Mr.Evans: Yes - even harder. But I'm self-disciplined and I find that working
hard for a few hours gives me time to play hard too. I have a more
Miss Burnes: So in fact, you too have a routine life?
Mr.Evans: Of course! Everything becomes routine after a while. But it's up to
us to make that routine a creative experience -
Miss Burnes: Oh yes-I do.agree!
Mr.Evans: And we mustn't forget that"all work and no play makes Jack a dull
II . Read
Read the following passages. Underline the important viewpoints while reading.
l. Why Work?
Matthew: Michael, do you go out to work?
Michael: Not regularly, no. I... I used to;I used to have a job in a publishing
company, but I decided it wasn' t really what I wanted to do and that
what I wanted to do wouldn't earn me much money, so I gave up working
and luckily I had a private income from my family to support me and
now I do the things I want to do. Some of them get paid like lecturing
and teaching, and others don't.
Matthew: What are the advantages of not having to go to work from nine till
Michael: Ah... there' re. . . there' re two advantages really. One is that if
yeu feel tired you don't have to get up, and the other is that you can
spend your time doing things you want to do rather than being forced
to do the same thing all the time.
Matthew: But surely that's in a sense very self-indulgent and very lucky because
most of us have to go out and earn our... our livings...um.Do you feel
justified in having this privileged position?
Michael: Yes,because I think I ase it well. I do.things which I think are useful
to people and the community and which I enjoy doing.
Matthew: Joan, do you think that in order to lead a balanced life, people need
some form of work?
Joan: Yes, I do, but I think it's equally important that their attitude
to work... um. .. should be positive. If orie is going to look on work
as drudgery, something that one does so that one will enjoy one' s
leisure or whatever comes after it, then... then I don't think there...
there can be very much satisfaction in it. But it seems to me that
whatever work one is actually doing... er... can become creative,and
I think that this is what we all need to feel that we are creating
something,in the same way that even when er... a mother cooks a meal,
she is creating, in her own way, something which... which is very
necessary to her family.
2. What Is the Value of Work?
Matthew: Chris, what do you think the value of work is?
Chris: Well, I think it... in our present-day society... um... for
most people, work has very little value at all um... Most of us go
out to work for about eight to nine hours of our working day.
We do things which are either totally futile and totally useless
or have very little justification whatsoever, and for most of us
the only reason for working is that we need to keep ourselves
alive, to pay for somewhere to live, to pay to feed our... our
Matthew: But surely people wouldn' t know what to do if they didn't have to
go to work?
Chris: Well, again this raises the sort of... two main aspects of work...
That one, should we think of'work only as... as a sort of
breadwinning process, and this is very much the role it has in
current society, or should we take a much wider perspective on work
and...and think of all the possible sort of activities that human
beings could be doing during the day? I think the sort of
distinction um currently is between say, someone who works in a car
factory and who produces cars which are just adding to pollution,
to overconsumption of vital resources, who is doing something
which is... very harmful, both to our environment and to, probably
society... um, to contrast his work with someone perhaps like a
doctor, wbo I think in any society could be jostified as doing a
very valuable job and one which incidentally,is...is satisfying to
the person who is doing it.
Matthew: What do you do? Is your job just a breadwinning process or do you
get some satisfaction out of doing it?
Chris: Well, in the job I... I do I find that most of the
satisfaction...is a mental one; it's coming to grips with the
problems of my subject and with the problems of teaching in the
University. Clearly this is the type of satisfaction that most
people doing what we call in England "white-collar" jobs... um...
tend to look for and tend to appreciate in theii jobs. This is
quite different from the sort of craftsman, who is either working
that his hands or with his skills on a machine, or from people
perhaps who are using artistic skills which are of a quite different
Certainly it's becoming a phenomena that people who do
"white-collar?jobs during the day, who work with their minds to
some extent, although many "white-collar" jobs now are becomin very
mindless, people who work on computers, people who... um... are
office clerks, um... bank employees, these people have fairly
soul-destroying jobs which nevertheless don't involve much
physical effort, that they tend to come home and do"do-it-yourself
" activities at home. They make cupboards... um... paint their
houses, repair their cars... which somehow provide the sort of
physical job satisfaction... um that they're denied in their
3. The Worst Job
The worst job I ever had was as a waitress at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike the summer I was 18. Everyone who passed through the place wanted their food now, and many of them seemed to think that tipping was a nice idea in theory but not in practice. The' pace was manic, and I had to wear a hairnet and white oxfords: Most of the time I arrived at work crying, and drove hotne crying. The only good thing I can say about the experience is that it left me with the most profound respect for people who wait tables and with a pronounced tendency to overhp.
I had other jobs, before and after that one. I stuffed jelly doughnuts at a bakery in a bad neighborhood; I called people who were behind on their bills and ordered them to pay up. I was good at doughnuts and bad at threats. After that I bad jobs in the newspaper business only, so I never felt that I had a bad job again. I did not particularly care for working night rewrite on New Year's Eve, but I imagine that makes me just about average.
4. What Do You Do, Daddy?
A young boy asks his father, "What do you do, Daddy?" Here is how the father might answer: "I struggle with crowds, traffic jams and parking problems for about an hour. I talk a great deal on the telephone to people I hardly know . I dictate to a secretary and then proof-read what she types. I have all sorts of meetings with people I don't know very well or like very much. I eat lunch in a big hurry and can't taste or remember what I've eaten. I hurry, hurry, hurry. I spend my time in very functional offices wi~h very functional furniture, and I never look at the weather or sky or`people passing by.
I talk but I don't sing or dance or touch people. I spend the last hour, all alone, struggling with crowds, traffic and parking." Now this same father might also answer: "I am a lawyer. I help people and businesses to solve their problems. I help everybody to know the rules that we all have to live by, and to get along according to these rules."
5. I Can't Stop Working
There have clearly been three times in my life when it would have been not only appropriate but reasonable for me to do something other than earn money. Once my father would have supported me while I went to summer school. Once I could have supported myself with savings while I was on strike. And once I would have been supported by my husband while I raised small children.
I couldn't do it. I went to summer school at 9 a.m. and to work at il a.m. During the strike I did a radio show and magazine work. And during my maternity leave, after the checks ran out, I started to get nervous. Very nervous. I was having a wonderful time with my children, but there was this little flutter in my stomach that said, "You haven,t got a dime." For whatever reason, I am not good at joint assets unless my assets are making some substantial contribution.
It's hard to figure out why I can,t be more relaxed about this, why I never backpacked through Europe like my friends because I had to be at work. I grew up in a comfortable middle-class home. My father worked very hard-too hard, I always thought -to fill the role of working man and the role of Dad, which probably made him just about average for his time. My mother never worked outside her home. It,s hard for me to figure out how a little girl in such an environment wound up thi.nking of herself as a breadwinner before current fashion dictated that she should do so.
It probably has a great deal to do with independence, with feeling beholden to no man-and i suppose I do mean man. Mothers worry now about raising daughters who are willing and able to support themselves and their children if their marriages go crash. But I worry about being a woman who is not quite able to relax about her own self-worth and the incalculable value of the domestic functions she performs, not quite able to let the household run for a time driven only by her husband , s paycheck. It would make sense for me to do that, when my next child is born. For a time, as I did with the other two, I will not work. But the flutter will begin and I will want to have earning power again-not to buy anything in part.icular, just to know I am still a player.
6. When Taking Home a Paycheck Means
More Than Dollars and Cents
I have worked for money since I was 16 and went to the principal's office to ask for working papers. My problem is that I don't know how to stop, even when it would make sense and be possible to:do so for a time. Working for money has always meant something more to me than a bank balance. I suppose I have felt that at?some level I am my paycheck. Not how much I take home; if quantity were a real issue I wouldn't be in journalism. Just that, like Everest, the money is there. I need to be on a payroll to affirm myself. It doesn't seem like a healthy need; if I were male, of course, it would seem like second nature.
It's an interesting concept, money, sort of the way respiration is an interesting concept. We're not supposed to care about it too much, especially now, when the bad rap on baby boomers is that they've forsworn drugs because they can get high from their cash management accounts. To say it's.central to who and where we are may be verboten; it also happens to be true. If you haven't got any, you're on the streets or on welfare. If you've got a whole lot, you're on the best-seller list and you don' t have to play Monopoly anymore because in real life the entire boardwalk bears your name.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Most of us need to work to pay the rent, make the mortgage payments. I.ots of us convince ourselves that we need to work 60-hour weeks to do that, but that's of ten because we've let the size of our toys get. out of control.
We've got a gender gap on the issue, too. A man who is not interested in earning money is a ne'er-do-well or a freeloader; a man who is supremely successful is a captain of industry. But society is still more comfortable with women who see earning power in terms of selfprotection, not self-promotion.
While it has been fashionable during my lifetime for professional women, plagued by guilt over conflicts between their roles as mothers and as workers, to say that they work because it fulfills them, that's only haif the story for me. I also like it because it pays. That makes me feel guilty. I should have better priorites. The new saw about not mimicking male behavior turns out to be an old saw in disguise: we should not be prey to the baser impulses.
7. Work Brings Social and Personal Esteem
For these men, work is seen, not so much as a necessary evil, but as an opportunity to use one's skills in a way that gains money and esteem and is quite pleasant in itself. Work is a way of life, a mental challenge, an emotional involvement. The rat race is described as being exciting, and, when high status is combined with high financial rewards, it brings both social and personal esteem, Work can also give scope for male assertiveness;being in a position of command and control is a satisfaction on which several men proudly commented.
8. Work for High Financial Rewards
"I've got happier as I've got richer in direct proportion . For me money buys happiness."
For some men the business of making money through work is gratifying and exciting in itself. Their lives are geared towards this and they have chosen their jobs principally for their high financial rewards. For them money is important, not just for what it will buy, but as a badge of success: money and status are inextricably linked. Sometimes the whole family is involved in the quest to "get on", sometimes wife and children have to take second place, but they all have a common aim. They are the competitors, the self-made men, many of them with a well-conceived plan of self-betterment over a five- or ten-year span. Most of them left school without any academic distinction and started in business without any capital resources; rhey took courses where necessary, worked hard and made their own chances.