Want to be happier in your career? Stop caring about your job.
At some point during your career, you’ll almost certainly listen to a demoralized coworker complain about their job. They’ll lament the extra effort they put in, the lack of recognition from the higher-ups, and how pointless and inefficient the policies are. When this happens, I hope you respond by validating their feelings, and being empathetic and supportive. And then I hope you give them one single piece of advice:
Stop caring about your job.
Which isn’t to say “stop caring about your work.” You should care about the work that you do. You should take pride in doing good work that is useful, ethical, and professional. But that’s your work, not your job.
Your job is a transaction.
Your employer needs work done, which you are capable of doing. You do that work for them, and they compensate you for it. That is the entire relationship. Forget the mission statement. Ignore the CEO’s talk about how “our people believe in our product.” Stop trying to believe that “this place is like one big family.” You are being paid for the value that you provide, and that’s all, and that is okay.
If you’re pulling back from this sentiment because you find it too cold, do a quick thought experiment for me. Imagine that tomorrow, the company you work for decides they’re going to do something totally different, like make shoes (on the off chance you already work for a company that makes shoes, pretend that your company is now making, I don’t know, ice cream scoops). You’ll still be doing the same basic job, which is somehow perfectly applicable to shoe/ice cream scoop production, for the same compensation, with the same people. Would you quit, because that’s not the job you signed on for? No, probably not.
Okay, now let’s say that the company you work for decided they were going to do what they already do, but better than ever, and all they need to do to accomplish that is give you a 25% pay cut. Now do you quit? Yeah. Of course you do. And you should. Because you’re not there to further the grand cause of shoes or ice cream scoops or whatever product they make. You’re there to do a job, and be compensated fairly for it. And that’s it.
This isn’t a weird idea at all. It’s actually the most natural way to approach your job. When I go pick up lunch, I don’t expect the person serving me to care deeply about the great societal importance of bagel sandwiches, or the efficient dispersal of said sandwiches. I expect them to simply care about doing good work, and to have the integrity to want to be useful. And I will hit that tip jar every time to reward them for it, because I love compensating people who do good work — regardless of how much they care about their employer.
Think about what the concepts of “company loyalty” or “caring about the mission” sound like on the management side. It’s a great deal for them — you might even say a great scam! Employees who care about their jobs will:
- Work longer and harder, because of the culture that they should be passionate about the company goals.
- Stick around, even when they might get paid more somewhere else.
- Negotiate less hard, and accept excuses that the company just can’t afford to give them a raise.
That last one is especially important. Once you recognize that your job is a transaction, you can take any and all sympathy for the company and throw it right out the window. If you get a better offer somewhere else, take it without a second thought or an ounce of guilt. Maybe give them a chance to match the offer, since it will save you the hassle of making the change. But if they tell you they don’t have the money for your raise, tell them “Yeah, well, I don’t have the money to buy a Tesla. And you know what that means?” *lean forward in your chair here* “It means I don’t have a Tesla . . .” Your paycheck isn’t an allowance. It’s a fee for services provided. If they can’t afford your fee, they don’t get your work anymore.
Maybe all of this seems a bit cold. But ask yourself: Is the company doing anything different? Are they going to pay, promote, and retain you because they care about you? Or are they only going to do the minimum they need to in order to get the value you create? Your job is a business arrangement. Everyone needs to treat it as such.
Care about the work you do as a professional. You’ll be able to do that better when you aren’t exhausting yourself going above and beyond, or getting demoralized by an employer who doesn’t prioritize you the way you prioritize it.
Care about the people you work with. You’ll serve them better when you’re advocating for them to do only what they’re paid for, and get paid what they’re worth.
But don’t care about your job. Because your job is just a transaction. Your employer is going to treat it that way, so you should too.