Are You in a Relationship with Your Job?

No matter your profession, if you’re a part of the workforce in the United States, you have at some point been confronted with a seemingly simple question: “Do you love your job?”

It is an inescapable phrase, wrapped up in our national psyche along with ideas of the American Dream, the purpose of our lives, and what we do with our time here on earth. It’s also a privilege to be able to consider the question in any employment decision. So, do you love your job?

What does that even mean, to love your job? Perhaps you find satisfaction in the work you do, enjoyment in interacting with coworkers, or safety and security in having a steady income. Or perhaps you’re dissatisfied with the time you feel you waste on meaningless tasks, trapped in a career with no room for growth, or simply feeling unseen and unappreciated in the work that you do. But how do any of those things relate to an emotion such as love?

Job Anthropomorphism

Instead of arguing that it’s just a figure of speech, I’d like to look at it from a different perspective. What if we considered our work in the same light as the romantic and platonic relationships in our lives? The time and effort we invest in our working lives can lead to emotional connections and responses that look very much like a real relationship.

Starting a new job can be exhilarating as you strive to learn all the intricate details of your role and interact with new coworkers. But after many years at that same job, you might feel bored or even resentful of the time you spend at work. Searching for a new job and going through interviews can feel a lot like dating, and the rejection of not getting a job (or even a callback) can truly sting.

The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale lists dismissal from work as one of the 10 most stressful life events, scoring it more difficult than pregnancy or the death of a close friend. No small portion of that can be attributed to financial concerns, but “change to a different line of work” and “change in responsibilities at work” are also considered highly stressful. Breakups are hard, no matter what form they take.

There Is No Such Thing as a Perfect Job

Given that we are in a relationship with our work, how does that alter our approach and behavior? It might sound silly to ask yourself questions like, “Would I want to bring my job home for the holidays and introduce it to my parents?” But try that one out on yourself; you might find it sparks an emotional response.

More concretely, it should influence the kind of energy you invest in your work. A loving relationship usually means not just appreciating the positive aspects, but acknowledging and accepting the flaws as well. Any relationship requires some sacrifice and compromise from both sides, along with hard work and attention if it’s going to be sustained.

When was the last time you did something nice for your job without it being explicitly asked of you? When was the last time your job paid you a real compliment?

I personally used this viewpoint in evaluating an opportunity to change jobs and join Atomic Object. At that point in my career, it mattered to me that I worked somewhere that reflected my own values, somewhere that I could settle down and grow old. It turns out, as an organization, Atomic Object is also interested in our relationship to our work, as our CEO Carl wrote in a recent blog post about Atomic’s purpose.

Once More with Feeling

Now I’ll ask again, do you love your job? I think an important conclusion here is that it’s fine if the answer is no. Or that you don’t know. Maybe you’re still looking for “the one,” or you’re not ready to settle down.

But the next time you are asked, or have the opportunity to ask yourself, whether you love your job, I’d encourage you to consider the question from this point of view. I’m curious to hear how it might change your approach to your next job search, your quarterly review, or just how you feel showing up to work tomorrow morning.