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How can work make us happy?

Monday, 1 May 2017  | Kara Martin

May 1st is May Day or International Labour Day, traditionally a time to celebrate the introduction of the 8-hour working day more than 100 years ago.

So it is a suitable day to discuss work, job satisfaction and how much time we are spending at on the job.

An Editorial in The Age today quoted a new study by Curtin University, based on analysis of the highly respected Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, which found that ‘while working longer hours might help make you more successful, it is more likely to make you miserable once you start clocking up more than 40 hours each week’.

Interestingly, this contrasts with another recent article from The Guardian doing the Facebook rounds, which suggested: ‘The rich used to show how much they could spend on things they didn’t need. Today, a public display of productivity is the new symbol of class power’.

Author Ben Tarnoff continues:

In an era of extreme inequality, elites need to demonstrate to themselves and others that they deserve to own orders of magnitude more wealth than everyone else. Cook [Apple CEO] is approximately 500,000% richer than the average American – but he wakes up at 3.45 in the morning. This is the hallmark of conspicuous production: it justifies the existence of an imperial class by showcasing their superhuman levels of industry.

Both articles mention the temptation to worship our work as if it can deliver more than it should. The Age highlights work as a source of happiness:

It's the human condition to aspire to happiness in our lives, including our working lives. It's worthwhile considering any evidence that helps us to achieve this. What impacts more on our sense of happiness and satisfaction at work is who we work with and the support and flexibility we experience.

Meanwhile, The Guardian article suggests that we find our identity and self-esteem in our work. Tarnoff actually calls the long-working CEOs ‘devoted work-worshippers’. He finishes with a utopian vision: ‘Imagine a world where the poor didn’t have to work so hard to exist, and the rich didn’t have to work so hard to appear worthy of their wealth, because rich and poor didn’t exist’.

The workplace Christian has a conspicuously different perspective on work, and a tangibly different result.

The ground-breaking State of Work in Australia study, initiated by Reventure, a new organisation specialising in faith and work research and utilising the Barna Group, studied more than 1,000 Australians and found that 66% of workers identifying as Christian are satisfied with the amount of stress in their lives, compared to 61% in the general population.

‘It is quite probably that the higher level of purpose and meaning that Christians find in their work offsets some of the stressful nature of their work,’ explains Reventure Managing Director Dr Lindsay McMillan. ‘Satisfaction with stress levels correlates closely to job satisfaction.’

Job satisfaction amongst Christians is higher: while under half (44%) of Australian workers are satisfied with their jobs, Christians show a higher degree of satisfaction (51%), with 63% saying that they enjoy going to work everyday, compared to 53% among the general population of workers.

Workplace Christians responded significantly higher than their colleagues on three dimensions of finding meaning in work:

  • I am looking for ways to live a more meaningful life (77% Christians/72% total).
  • I find purpose and meaning in the work I do (69% Christians/60% total).
  • I feel my contributions at work are valued (69% Christians/59% total).

Christians recognise that work is not an end in itself and not the ultimate source of happiness. Their source of identity, esteem, security and contentment lies in their faith rather than work. Work, then, becomes a means of serving God and others, and contentment flows from obedience to God rather than self-achievement.


Details of the State of the Work study:

  • The study was conducted in April 2016 and consisted of a nationally representative survey of 1,001 employed Australian adults, with an oversample of church attenders whereby 321 participants identified as church-going Christians.
  • The study was representative of all major denominations.
  • The sample was balanced for gender and age and included fulltime (57%), part-time (33%) and self-employed/independent (10%) workers.
  • The sample included a representation of workplace settings including 40% professional office workers, 12% working in retail, 11% working from home, 9% in education and 6% in a health setting.

For more information, see

For information on how we can worship God through our work, see my new book, Workship.

Kara Martin
is Project Leader with Seed, lecturer with Mary Andrews College and author of Workship: how to use your work to worship God. She was formerly Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute at Ridley College in Melbourne. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant.

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