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On the value of work


Some time ago I read about two German sociologists who investigated life satisfaction. They tried to estimate with a complex model how much it would cost the German welfare state to compensate the dissatisfaction induced by job loss. After some profound research they finally stated that the satisfaction we get from a job is actually invaluable.

This made me think about the value of work which can’t be expressed in a number on a paycheck. Of course salary is an important incentive we get from our work. But I am quite sure that almost every one of us gets more than just that. This brings me to the so called Vitamin-Model of British psychologist Peter Warr. Despite his funny name it is a serious theory about the influences on mental well-being. The Vitamin-Model states that mental health is affected by environmental features such as job characteristics in a way that is comparable to the effects that vitamins have on our physical health.  Let me describe briefly just some of these beneficial vitamins supplied by our work environment. 


For instance a good job will give us the opportunity to apply our competences and to experience task- variety during the day. Social contact to colleagues can also be an important source of well being. In addition work provides us with a certain social status which contributes to our self-esteem within society.
What's really interesting about the model are the following two things: Firstly, Warr takes into account that some vitamins can be overdosed and end up being harmful just like real vitamins (e. g. vitamin A).  For example too much task variety or responsibility can be stressful and result in frustration. Secondly work must not be the only source of these mental vitamins. Note again the analogy to real vitamins. An orange is not the only source of vitamin C. A kiwi contains it just as well. In the same manner mental vitamins can also be obtained from other social environments than work. A volunteer job or hobby can provide us with social contacts and lets us experience variety and meaning just as work does.
Of course there are some constraints to this: In most societies work is still the most important source for social status and in the end most of us need a certain financial stability to experience mental well-being. But what we can learn from the Vitamin-Model is that an active social life independent from our job is vital. It can help us maintain our mental health when we experience difficulties at our workplace or help us keep up our motivation during times of temporary unemployment. In addition the Vitamin-Model highlights that there might be too much of a good thing. After all it also shows us why we should appreciate our job even if we are not always satisfied with our payment.

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