Does Working Hard Really Make You a Good Person? | Azim Shariff | TED | Summary and Q&A

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Does Working Hard Really Make You a Good Person? | Azim Shariff | TED

TL;DR

In a society that values effort and hard work, we often attach moral worth to labor, regardless of its productivity or significance, leading to a culture of workism and misplaced priorities.

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Key Insights

  • 🤔 People view individuals who choose to keep working, even if their job could be automated, as more competent but also as warmer and more moral.
  • 🌍 Effort moralization, the belief that effort is inherently moral, is not limited to one culture, but appears to be a universal human belief.
  • 🤝 Effort moralization makes sense at the individual level, as those who show effort in even meaningless tasks are more likely to help others.
  • 🔍 Workism, a cultural belief that work is not just a source of income but also a source of identity and self-actualization, creates a competitive environment where individuals strive to be harder working than others.
  • ⚙️ The societal focus on effort rather than productivity has created a work environment with perverse incentives, where people prioritize being seen as hard workers over the actual value they produce.
  • 🎯 Partner choice, the selection of cooperation partners, is influenced by the belief that hard work is a moral quality that indicates a person's trustworthiness and willingness to help.
  • 😰 The emphasis on effort in work can lead to individuals sacrificing love, leisure, and overall well-being to signal their work ethic to others, indicating a potential human cost.
  • 🌍 Shifting the focus from effort to productivity and meaningful outcomes in work can create a world full of meaning, rather than one focused solely on effort and hard labor.

Transcript

Imagine for a second that your job was made redundant by an advanced piece of software that could do the work at the same level of quality for free. But you happen to have three years left on a guaranteed contract, and so your employer gives you two options. Either you can keep getting paid as per your contract, but stay home as the software does y... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What did the study participants think of Jeff, the medical scribe who chose to keep working instead of letting the software do his job?

Those who heard about Jeff choosing to keep working saw him as less competent but perceived him as warmer, more moral, and trustworthy. They viewed him as a good person, despite the fact that he did not add any extra value to his work.

Q: Why do people attach moral worth to effort regardless of the outcome it produces?

The speaker, a psychology professor, explains that people have a natural inclination to connect effort with morality. This is because individuals who are willing to put effort into even meaningless tasks are perceived as more likely to be helpful and reliable in fulfilling cooperation and partnership roles.

Q: Does the moralization of effort only exist in certain cultures?

No, the speaker mentions that these findings are not limited to any specific culture. The study was replicated in various countries, including the United States, South Korea, and France, and the same results were observed. It suggests that the moral connection to effort transcends cultural boundaries.

Q: What is the potential downside of our society's emphasis on effort and work as moral qualities?

The speaker argues that our focus on effort as a moral value has created a work environment with skewed incentives. Instead of prioritizing productivity and meaningful outcomes, we prioritize being perceived as a hard worker. This can lead to people sacrificing personal time, leisure, and other important aspects of life to demonstrate their dedication to work.

Q: How does workism contribute to this culture of effort moralization?

Workism refers to the belief that one's job is not only a source of income but also an integral part of their identity and self-actualization. This cultural phenomenon forces individuals to constantly prove themselves as better cooperation partners, encouraging an arms race of workism. The winner is often the one perceived as the hardest worker, regardless of the actual value they contribute.

Q: What can be the unintended consequences of the moralization of effort?

The speaker highlights that effort moralization can lead to the maintenance of laborious aspects of jobs that lack societal worth. This can result in the proliferation of what's known as "bullshit jobs," where individuals see their work as pointless. It also puts pressure on individuals to prioritize the appearance of effort over actual productivity, potentially sacrificing personal well-being and fulfillment.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • People tend to view individuals who choose to keep working, even when their job could be automated, as more competent but also more moral and trustworthy.

  • Effort moralization is a phenomenon seen across different cultures, where people attach moral worth to effort regardless of the outcome or productivity.

  • Workism, the cultural belief that work is not just a source of income but also a source of identity and self-actualization, perpetuates a work environment focused on signaling effort rather than productivity, leading to inefficiencies and potential negative impacts on individuals' personal lives.

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