Want to dig your job? Work like a caveman (or cavewoman)

by Bea Boccalandro

Think your fancy modern job is better than the primitive jobs of our ancestors? 

caveman_beaboccalandro_image.pngMaybe not. 

It’s unlikely cave dwellers grumbled about the day they endured to put dinner on their stone tables. Anthropologists believe pre-historic humans legitimately enjoyed working. The legacy of these happy laborers appears to survive in our genes. Why else would so many of us hunt deer, catch fish and gather berries for fun?

What's more, our modern view that work is the unpleasantness necessary for survival would confound our forefathers and foremothers. Hunter-gatherer communities didn't even have a word for “work.” Procuring food and shelter were not distinctly different from playing with the kids or drawing on the cave wall.

We upright and suited modern humans, on the other hand, mostly see work as a necessary transaction. Fewer than half of Americans are happy workers, per research by the Conference Board. We don’t only have a word for this unpleasantness, we have several: Labor, grind and toil, to name a few more.

Why has work devolved from fulfilling to depleting over the centuries? Mainly because we inadvertently stripped it of social purpose. More than just a way to feed our nuclear families, the work of generations past inherently made a positive social impact. Hunting and consuming a wooly mammoth, for example, was a community endeavor that fed and clothed dozens of individuals. It felt meaningful and connected.

Don’t sharpen your flint and rush into the forest just yet. There is a way to keep today's comfortable jobs and recover the fulfilling purpose that is our legacy. It’s a practice called job purposing that stretches jobs, just a tad, to make a positive social impact through everyday work. If you work at a restaurant, job purposing might entail serving a meal to homeless individuals after closing or sourcing ingredients from local family farms. If you're a hairdresser, job purposing might be a matter of becoming trained on local domestic violence services and connecting clients when appropriate. Whatever your job, you can twist it towards social good. For six simple ways to do this, see prior post. 

History of work expert Richard Donkin says that “The creatures that stepped down from the trees and began to roam upright over the land appear to have developed something beyond the need to survive ... they seem to have moved with a sense of purpose.” Donkin believes this has been passed down to us. “If anything drives our organizations today it must be a similar purpose.”

What can you do today to reclaim your legacy, as a human, of purposeful work? (Whatever you decide to do, I would love to hear about it.)

Bea Boccalandro is founder and president of VeraWorks, a global consulting firm that helps companies — including Aetna, Bank of America, Disney, FedEx, Hewlett Packard Enterprise IBM, Levi’s and PwC — contribute to societal causes. Bea focuses on “job purposing,” the management practice of heightening employee engagement, performance and wellbeing by offering them the opportunity to make a societal impact through their everyday jobs. To learn more about job purposing, download Bea’s free Job Purposing Essentials paper, or follow Bea on Twitter.

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