Everybody Discounts How Much Fun Matters for Their Next Job

Photo: David Woolley/Getty Images

Weirdly, humans have great difficulty empathizing with their future selves, especially if future-you is going to be in another context. Consider how difficult it is to pack for a warm place (Miami in February) when you’re in a cold place (Chicago in February), and how you’ll inevitably end up packing spare sweaters for a tropical destination.

This same tendency appears to hold for job hunting, too. As she detailed in a post for the New York Times, the University of Chicago’s Ayelet Fishbach found that in experiments, participants care lots about how fun their work is and how much they like their colleagues, but that gets discounted when considering a future gig, where promotions and salaries take precedence. It’s as though people forget that they’ll have to show up to the actual, real life of their tantalizing, would-be future employer. The current gig gets valued for intrinsic benefits, or rewards within the activity itself, while the future gig is evaluated by delayed benefits, like the money to be made.

“[I]t is much easier to get out of bed in the morning if our job is interesting and our colleagues are fun to be around,” Fishbach writes. “But we care much less about such benefits when we apply for a future job. We fail to realize that the person we are in the present — the one who values intrinsic benefits — is awfully similar to the person we will be in the future.”

The intrinsic benefits can also be cultivated at the current job. If you work in a privacy-free open office, get a drink with your colleagues so you can complain about the bosses when they’re out of earshot. As Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer reminds us, people have just the same needs in the office as outside it, so if yours aren’t getting met, do something about it — since professional satisfaction stems from feeling like you’re part of a team. So get thee to happy hour.

Everybody Discounts How Much Fun Matters for Their Next Job