Hard work – does it always pay off?

The phrase ‘hard work’ has cropped up a few times over the past couple of weeks and I am feeling the need to explore it further.  For some it is a positive experience, a value and a virtue and for others it has more negative connections, it’s exhausting and draining.

“That was hard work” she said smiling as the training came to an end and she closed her note book.

“That was hard work” he said, grimacing as he described the job he’d just left.

“It’s such hard work looking after the kids and trying to keep my job going.”

“Hard work, that’s what keeps me going and that’s what I value in other people.”

It’s a phrase that has practically become part of our psyche and a cultural norm.  My brief internet search tells me that it has its origins in the Protestant work ethic – a concept which emphasises that hard work, discipline and frugality are linked to a person’s salvation.  The devil finds work for idle hands and all that.

But surely hard work in and of itself is not of value or a virtue?

What do you believe about hard work?

Finish this sentence – People who work hard are . . . .

Diligent, determined, conscientious, enthusiastic, committed, insert your own word.  Is this true? Always?

What does it mean to you?

Is it a carrot that brings satisfaction and joy or a stick that keeps you in your place?

What does it get for you?

Achievement, purpose, distraction, an excuse not to do something else that would be more exciting but scary, familiarity, recognition, exhaustion, satisfaction, approval, something else?

And how do you know when you have done enough to achieve your intended outcome? How do you know when to stop?

Is hard work draining you?

It is great when it is a positive and motivating force in life but when it isn’t then it’s time to consider an alternative!

Perhaps this is a case of diminishing returns on your investment of energy, enthusiasm and effort – a downward spiral.

Many years ago I attended some training around a workplace quality assurance scheme.  It was then that I came across a tool which has been useful ever since and which, I think, sheds some light on this topic.  You might know it:

Basically: What we do + How we do it = outcome/impact

It follows then, that a clear assessment of the desired outcome can be used to inform what we do and how much effort we put into it (and when we stop).

If ‘what we are doing’ and ‘how we do it’ isn’t right for the situation then we can work as hard as we like and it isn’t actually going to bring satisfaction or get the desired result.

For example in an ideal world I could have produced the above diagram using some fancy software.  Some of you might notice and others wouldn’t care.  This option might have involved buying the package and learning how to use it – potentially a long and frustrating experience for me. I would have been miserable and stressed doing something that doesn’t interest me a great deal and not really having the time to spare at the moment. My desired outcome is to illustrate a point – my criteria are speed, ease and simplicity.

It might seem like the “soft” or “easy” option – it certainly wasn’t hard work but my whiteboard drawing seems to be a reasonable response which is in proportion to the desired outcome and good enough for the circumstances.

Maybe that’s all we need sometimes. Then we can rest, restore our energy levels, connect with what motivates us and move forward again with enthusiasm and maybe some hard work!