It’s a common storyline: idealistic college kid graduates and ends up selling her soul to a corporate job with high demands, long hours and unfulfilling work in the pursuit of what? A corner office? Stock options? Bragging rights?
Americans work some of the longest hours in the world, averaging 47 hours per week (or slightly more than nine each day). Under this kind of high pressure, it’s not surprising the more than half of the country is unhappy at their job.
Rather than submit to uncertainty or unhappiness, consider rethinking where you work. I’ve spent most of my life working for nonprofits and mission-driven companies, where my work doesn’t just contribute to someone’s bottom line, but to making the world a better place. Here are just a few reasons you should consider doing the same:
1. Your job matches your values
Life is full of compromises, but choosing between your job and your values should not be one of them. For those of us with a strong sense of right and wrong, it can be hard and disheartening to take a paycheck – no matter how high – from a company or organisation that doesn’t align with your values. This can be hard to intuit, but it’s a lot easier when that organisation has a stated mission. This is universal at nonprofits, which exist to achieve non-monetary goals, from curing cancer to creating professional networks within an industry. But many for-profit companies are adopting the same model. My current employer, Care2.com, has a simple mission: to show that business can be harnessed for good and can make the world a better place. A company’s mission underlies all their actions, provides guidance in decision-making, and can help you better understand and relate to your work.
2. Your co-workers share your values
People say it all the time: it’s so important to like the people you work with. Not only do you see these folks for at least 40 hours a week, but you often depend on them to be successful in your own work. In fact, studies have shown that even while fewer Americans say they have friends at work, it’s critically important for being happy at your job. For young workers or those of us who move for a new job opportunity (still the most common reason behind a move), your co-workers are your social group. In 2012, a survey found that one-third of Brits said they met the majority of their friends at work.
When working at your job means working under a shared set of values, it’s even easier to connect with your co-workers. In addition to sharing a boss, lunch options and conference rooms, you’re more likely to share interests, values and political persuasions, all ingredients for potential lifelong friends.
3. It connects you with a community
Making connections with like-minded folks doesn’t just happen in your office. Working somewhere with a mission connects you to a whole community of people in the same field doing similar work. The conferences you attend focus more on sustainable supply chain management rather than financial modeling and the people you meet there are likely to care more about the carbon footprint of their product than the magnitude of their profit margins. Suddenly, you’re not just working for a company with a mission, but are building a mission-oriented career and participating in movement to make the world a better place.
4. It can improve job performance
Sure, sometimes it’s hard to face your email inbox and the host of questions, inquiries and concerns that lie therein. But knowing that you and your employer are working toward the same ends can make even the most mundane tasks a bit easier. Research has found that employees at nonprofits are happier when they are more attached to the mission and the Harvard Business Review among others has linked motivation and engagement with performance. That means aligning yourself with an organisation and mission you believe can actually make you a better employee and more professionally successful.
5. There’s work / life balance
This isn’t true of every mission-based organisation, but, more often than not, a company or organisation that’s committed to making a positive change in the world also wants to have a positive influence on its employees. Certified B Corps and benefit corporations agree to standards that codify social responsibility and encourage better treatment of workers, such as providing healthcare coverage and providing flexibility. These standards encourage companies to look at their employees as people not production machines, which means allowing for lives outside the office.
6. But when there isn’t, long hours are less painful
All that said, when you feel like your work matters, staying at the office doesn’t seem like such a hardship. In fact, many nonprofits worry about burnout as much as motivating people to do their jobs.
7. You make a difference
Beyond all the personal and practical benefits of working for a mission-based company or nonprofit – from great colleagues to flexible schedules and better performance, the best thing about working for a mission is making a difference. In my work, I help local activists raise issues in their community with the powers that be and know that each petitioner I work with improves our democracy just a little bit. A public health official knows that by showing up to work, lives could be saved through better access to and education about healthcare. A cashier at Sweetgreen or Chipotle knows that serving customers locally sourced or GMO-free food helps drive demand for these more sustainable ingredients.
Working for a nonprofit or mission-driven company probably won’t pay for a second home, get you invited to the club seats at sports games or even inoculate you from the Monday morning blues. But knowing that when you leave the office or close your computer each day, your efforts contributed to making the world a kinder, happier place is a more priceless reward.
Aaron Viles is a Senior Grassroots Organizer for Care2. He works with citizen authors on Care2 Petitions to create petitions that will win concrete victories for animals, the environment and other progressive causes. Prior to Care2 he spent decades working within the nonprofit environmental advocacy field. Aaron honed his craft while working for Gulf Restoration Network, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Faithful America. He began his career with Green Corps, the field school for environmental organizing. When not in front of a screen or on a conference call, Aaron can be found doting on his daughters, pedaling furiously to keep up with the peloton and serving as a volunteer leader for the Gulf Restoration Network and his church.
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