What is the Purpose of a Job?

By - February 23, 2013

People ask how you what you do for a living. They ask if you like your work. Maybe they are even interested enough to ask for a few details about what you do. But there is a question that rarely gets asked. It is this: What is the purpose of your job? Or, in other words, why do you have this particular employment?

The purpose that matters to you might be just to pay the bills, but it rarely that alone or you would always be looking for the highest pay available with no other considerations. Yet there are other considerations, aren't there? You might want some enjoyment in your work, for example. Or you might want some satisfaction in the exercising of your particular talents. Or you might be using the job as a way to get a better one.

I went for almost ten years without a job, because our internet business was doing well. Now that it just barely pays the bills, I've been looking at jobs again. I considered working at a "dollar store," with the purpose being to make a little money and explore the possibility of opening such a business. I have had a volunteer job with Habitat for Humanity, which has helped me develop construction and renovation skills. I may put those to use buying and renovating condos or houses to sell at a profit.

I've even been working for a temporary agency, doing things like construction clean-up and holding advertising signs. This kind of work through "temp agency" or "labor pool" is generally low-wage, but it has some advantages. I can work when I like and so if I need a week off to work on my websites or look at investment real estate, I have the time. Meanwhile the income keeps our saving growing a bit, which is always a good thing.

Jobs, then, can serve different purposes. With that in mind, let's look at how to make them more useful, fun, profitable, and suited to your purposes and goals. Since it has always been my approach to use a job as a tool for various purposes, I'll illustrate my points and suggestions with some personal stories.

Have a Variety of Work

Some of us get tired, even physically, from doing the same things over and over again. That's why I enjoyed my first stint with a temporary work agency about twenty years ago. It was one of the larger employment agencies around, and provided a good variety of positions. I work as a host at a convention, doing assembly work in a factory, handing out samples in a grocery store, as a flagman on the highway, and as a mover. That's the short list. I had perhaps twenty different jobs through that temp agency. This can be a great way to discover what kinds of work you like to do, especially if you are young and relatively underqualified for high-paying jobs.

Choose When You Work

This is another potential advantage of a temporary employment agency. If it is the right kind of company (filling truly short-term positions of a day or a few weeks), you are normally free to take or refuse an assignment. Granted, if you say no to more than a few assignments in a week they may stop calling you very often, but when there is a lot of work you can pick and choose when to work and what kind of jobs to do.

You can also look for other ways to arrange your schedule. When I was younger I worked as a carpet cleaner, but only on my own terms. The owner of the company needed help now and then, so we came to an agreement. I would work for a little less than his other employees, but I would be paid for all the time I had to devote to the work, including the drive between jobs. Furthermore I would say yes or no to working any particular day--and I often did refuse when asked to work. The owner had me there (sometimes) to fill in when he needed a hand, without me ever begging for more hours, and I worked when I wanted to. It was a classic win-win situation.

Choose the Amount You Work

I worked about three days per week for many years at a casino. I purposely chose to work part time to have more time for other things I wanted to do. Fortunately for me, the casino I worked at had no benefits for many years, so they were willing to do this for me (sometimes you just have to ask). Once they started providing health insurance and 401ks, they wanted all of us to work at least four days each week, which I did for a while before quitting to find something less confining.

I worked as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant when I was about twenty years old. At some point I decided to start a small business and so I wanted to work just one day per week; Sunday. I demoted myself to shift manager and let them know that they could use me for Sundays or get rid of me. They went for the deal rather than lose a good employee. Sometimes you can negotiate more than just your pay if you have other goals. What if they had said no? See the next item.

Be Ready to Lose Your Job

If you really want to use a job for your own purposes, you might need to be ready to quit or even be fired. There is a lot say about this, but here is the short version: Always be aware of what other employment is available, have money in the bank, stay out of debt and have low living expenses. Then you are free to lose a job at will. This gives you leverage.

For example, I never really liked dealing blackjack at the casino, but it paid well, and I did enjoy running the roulette table when I was assigned to that. Then I was trained for weeks on the craps table, only to discover that it was the worst work job I could imagine (for me--most who have that position love it). Several supervisors informed me that I would have to work the position anyhow, since they spent all that time training me. Hmm... Let me see if I can recall my exact words...

"It isn't your choice. I will work at a gas station before I work on the craps table. You only have the choice of whether to keep a good blackjack and roulette dealer or not." Of course I said this to the supervisor who I knew liked to avoid confrontation and who also knew that I was a good employee. He immediately changed the schedule to put me back on the blackjack and roulette tables.

The key here was that I meant it. I would have gladly worked at a gas station rather than as a craps dealer. And in the meantime I had enough money in the bank to not worry about losing the job and low enough expenses to not worry about a four-dollar-per-hour pay cut with the new job. If you are ready to lose a job you have a lot more freedom.

Make More per Hour

Often there are ways to make more money per hour from your current job, if you think about and get creative. Perhaps the most obvious is to work holidays, overtime and any hours that are paid at a higher rate. In fact, if you alternated weeks working 32 hours one week and 48 the next, you would be working the same amount of time as a regular full-time employee, but making 5% more in total income (because of the "time-and-a-half" pay for those eight hours past forty. This is not always possible, but I have had jobs where it is.

There are more creative ways as well. For example, when I was working at the fast food restaurant I was responsible for making the employee schedule each week. Previous managers had simply thrown it together while at work. I took it home, spent forty-five minutes on it and charged the company three hours. Because my schedules cut hours, thus saving the company thousands of dollars per year, while providing better coverage during busy times, they had no problem with paying the three hours.

If you have ever worked in a pizza restaurant that has delivery, you know that the delivery drivers make more money than the assistant managers who have to run the shop and close the books at night. This is because of the tips of course. I refused management positions when I was a driver, until I had the idea to be a driver and manager. Small pizza joints with good employees run themselves for the most part, so I agreed to close up at night and do the book work if I could deliver pizzas until an hour before closing time. I received a raise with the promotion, and I still got tips. You have to ask to receive.

What is the purpose of your job? It might be to make money, to learn new skills, to do something enjoyable, to train for a business, to keep busy or get benefits. Maybe it is a way to cover costs while you get educated in order to have your dream career. In addition to these purposes, there are other things you hope for in a job, as well as things you hope to avoid. So why not start thinking creatively and taking action to get more from your current and future employment?

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