Home > Uncategorized > The seven work languages

The seven work languages

August 20, 2015

You might have heard about “the five love languages.” They come from a ridiculously popular book by Gary Chapman by the same name, and they are purportedly the following:

  1. gifts,
  2. quality time,
  3. words of affirmation,
  4. acts of service (devotion), and
  5. physical touch.

Chapman’s idea is that, in order to be happier with your loved one, you figure out how they like to receive your love, instead of just doing to them what you’d have done to yourself. So you might like hugs and physical touch the most, but they might need you to say kind things to them. So you say nice things, and then they give you hugs, and everybody’s happy.

I like this list because it really does seem like some people respond more to certain things than others. Personally I’m a touch person, and someone who likes gifts seems almost fake to me, but putting them both on a list makes me realize that maybe we’re just wired differently. It helps me understand other people a bit more and reserve judgment.

I want to do the same thing but for work instead of love. The question changes from “how to you want to receive love” to “what motivates you to work?”. I’ve come up with the following list:

  1. money
  2. security
  3. status
  4. social connection
  5. making a positive contribution to the world
  6. relief from boredom/ organizing framework
  7. passion

Ideally an employer would offer to people what they care about. Personally I care about making a positive contribution to the world, but most employers only offer money.

I’m the freak here, I guess. Most people would say they work because they get paid. But really it’s not that simple when you think about it. Some people value money past the point of security, which is why I separated out those two. For that matter, some people care about money as status, but on the other hand academics (generally) care about status beyond money, which is why I made status a separate category too.

The next three are self-explanatory, and I think independent, and for the last category I’m including musicians and artists, people who do stuff in spite of having no reason to think it will ever pay.

Well, my list might be imperfect, but I think it’s good enough to make one point. Namely, that most of those reasons are actually pretty much independent of money after all, so maybe I’m not such a freak.

The work versus money issue matters because of the countless discussions about what might happen if we ever get to the “Star Trek economy” stage of existence, where our basic needs are met and we’re capable of doing other stuff. When we have free time and the resources and security not to worry about food or shelter, what would happen next?

Would we all just play video games 12 hours a day and eat too much? Would we feel useless and dried up and depressed?

I think the answer is, it depends on your personality. If you are the type of person who works out of passion, this new world order wouldn’t slow you down a bit; you’d have even more time to pursue your thing. If you want to contribute to the world, or create meaningful social connections, you’d find a way to do that with likeminded people. If you’re an academic who wants to be the smartest person in the world, you’ll have even more time to do that (but probably way more competition for the title).

My guess is that the only people that would be deeply disappointed are the people who now really really like money for its own sake. I don’t really think there are too many of these people, but they are the very people who might create obstructions to the Star Trek economy’s existence, because they are both powerful and rich in this setup, and potentially have the most to lose.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. JSE
    August 20, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    I think “autonomy” might belong on that list.


  2. Zachary David
    August 20, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    I like it. There’s a lot to think about with each separate category. Obviously almost everything we do has some magnitude in each of the categories.

    How would you describe your work with the ows banking group? The polar extremes are zero in money and high in positive world contribution. But do you also enjoy the social connections and status that might come with it?

    If we think about both our work and our hobbies along these lines, we might be able to determine how “well rounded” our time is spent, and compare that to our optimal personal schedule. (unfortunately time for hobbies is not feasible for a lot of people these days)


  3. August 20, 2015 at 2:19 pm



  4. August 20, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Wanted to explain why “gifting” is not fake. Personally, my time is the most valuable resource in the universe to me. Even though I hope to have a good 30+ years more of my life, I’m acutely conscious that time is ticking away, and there is only so much I can accomplish/enjoy in my life. When someone takes their own time to think carefully about a gift that is meaningful for me, and then spends more of their time on executing the gift process in some way (e.g. making the gift themselves), that says to me that they are spending a resource that is incredibly valuable (their own time) on me. That is for me an incredibly powerful assertion of love, not even necessarily romantic love. So I personally don’t appreciate gifts for their expense, but rather for the thought and effort that went into them. A simple example: I got into rock-climbing fairly recently, and one year mom got me a cute/funny rock-climbing t-shirt (“Gravity? Never heard of it” with a pic of a climber hanging upside down). Though it only cost like $15 or something, it means she really thought carefully about what I would like, and took her time to look for something I would enjoy. And now whenever I wear that shirt it reminds me of how my mom loves me (even though, believe me, we don’t always find each other easy to deal with :).


    • Savonarola
      August 22, 2015 at 2:37 am

      Robert, you are my kind of person. I show love in gifts, usually little things. I’m not wonderful at remembering people’s birthdays or sending cards. But what I do is see things that would be perfect for someone and grab them (even second hand or free), then give them the gift when I see them next, or send it to them with a note that I’m thinking about them. But mostly my gifts are things I made in the kitchen, or a bunch of flowers from the garden left in a mason jar on a friend’s porch. And with my children, who are always on my mind, there are a thousand little things that almost don’t count as gifts. They are like little tangible thoughts that show I noticed, I listened, I thought about what they might need or what makes them happy. When someone recognizes that and appreciates it, it makes a big difference to me. I’m sure your mom is glad you like the shirt.


  5. dotkaye
    August 20, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    I have to think power belongs on that list as well.. which of the seven accounts for Trump ?
    If I didn’t need 1, I’d work for 5..


  6. August 20, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    I’m struck that as an idealistic teenager (weren’t we all?) I imagined work motivated in essentially the reverse order of the criteria you’ve laid down, but as a practical adult the stated order is pretty accurate. Somewhere that shift occurs.


  7. Russ
    August 20, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Research into what belongs on that list exists. Are you familiar with “Drive” by Dan Pink or “The Progress Principle” by Theresa Amabile? Both support your contention about money, I think. Would be curious to see your opinion on the research and presentation in those.

    My company tries to offer everything on their lists: autonomy, mastery, meaningful work, progress. I think that counts as at least one counter to your “most employers” lament. Perhaps the exception that proves the rule?


  8. August 20, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    I think there is something missing from your list, which I guess I would phrase as pride in craftsmanship. Some people work because of the satisfaction they find in completing well made ‘objects’ (where the objects might not be physical at all). This is different from #5 since these objects might not be useful at all.


  9. August 20, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    Hey, I think a necessary first step to the star trek economy is making (relative) poverty a no-shame thing. This could be achieved by soaking the rich to pay for a minimum income where the government pays everyone enough for basic subsistence. I’d love to hear you guys discuss minimum income on Slate Money. There’s a place in Canada where it was trialed and it is analagous to how the age pension is run (at least in places like Australia). How can we scale it up to everyone?


  10. August 21, 2015 at 11:55 am

    I would add involvement/challenge. For problem-solvers the “right” job provides interesting, complex challenges. Among others, these challenges may be purely intellectual of the make our software faster sort or leadership challenges say getting all of one’s coworkers motivated toward measurable goal.


  11. August 22, 2015 at 10:01 am

    In my life, money is a means to the end of security (keeping the wolf a little farther from the door) and work (in the economic sense) is a means to the end of getting money. Ideally, I’d score a paying job that also provides status (3), social connection (4), relief from boredom and disorganization (5?) and passion (6). In practice, it seems to me that social connection is a prerequisite for being allowed to work, and social status, while not exactly a prerequisite, is a factor in favor of social connection (assuming high-status people are more desirable as networking contacts). Passion is something I see as neither an input nor an output of work, but part of the work package deal, i.e., something that’s expected of people given the privilege of work, expressed by employers in the form of non-ironic motivational posters, etc. Making a positive contribution to the world is something I’ve tentatively identified as possible only on one’s own time.


  12. suevanhattum
    August 23, 2015 at 1:03 am

    Good list. My job teaching math I do for all of your reasons. I wrote a book for all but the first two. (After it was done, I started daydreaming about the first. Wouldn’t it be fun to have the money for a house with a view?)


  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: