With panto season just around the corner, the name ‘Dick Whittington’ will once again be thrust into our collective consciousness. Adorning road-side billboards and discarded flyers, the image of a cross-dressing, cat-accompanied soap star in tights and boots will be difficult to miss. You know the story – a poor orphan boy leaves the squalor of his provincial life to find his fortune in the big smoke. This narrative is written into London’s commercial folklore, and continues to serve as a metaphor for the city’s strength as a global economic powerhouse. Indeed, London mayor Boris Johnson has regularly drawn on this tale of his fictional predecessor in his political rhetoric.

Interestingly, what entices young Dick to the metropolis is the rumour that the streets are paved with gold. It’s the promise of hard, financial rewards which makes London such a desirable place to earn a living. In this sense, the story of Dick Whittington speaks to a deeper truth about working life in present-day London. The city is seen as a desirable working location because of the wages that are associated with it. Labour is valued purely through the financial compensation that workers receive, with little to no interest in broader wellbeing.

Rethinking the way we value ‘work’

This principle is not limited to London’s working culture. The Daily Mail published a report that asked 2500 people across the UK which would make them happier – a job which paid £50,000 with ‘reasonable’ hours allowing them 7.5 hours sleep or one paying £90,000 with ‘unusual’ hours allowing them just six hours sleep. The respondents overwhelmingly favoured of the latter. This won’t come as a surprise to many – our working culture is such that financial benefits are seen as the ‘be all and end all’ of a desirable career.

It seems that the way we choose to spend our working day is almost entirely determined by the numbers on our paycheque.

Is it time we rethink the way we value our day to day work in the metropolis? A survey carried about by Statista.com confirmed that the most important factor for workers when choosing a job is salary. While 84% listed the wage as a vital part of their employment decision, only 64% saw a work-life balance as important. Other non-financial factors scored even lower: 34% thought corporate culture was significant, 28% said it was necessary to derive a sense of meaning from work, and only 24% believed ‘non-traditional perks/benefits’ were of value. It seems that the way we choose to spend our working day is almost entirely determined by the numbers on our paycheque. There is little regard for our broader sense of wellbeing, happiness and quality of life.

Recognising the significance of career decisions

Harvard Professor of Education and Psychology John Krumboltz believes that we need to re-evaluate the way we plan our career paths. According to Krumboltz, modern societies downplay the significance of this life-defining decision:

“Many give more thought to choosing a new pair of shoes. For many people, it’s a decision they never knew they made – it was made by default.”

The key for Krumboltz is in recognising that a career decision does not just affect our working hours and finances, but also the lives we live and the people we are:

“Here is a decision that affects everything in our future – not just how we spend eight hours a day, 50 weeks a year – but probably who we’re going to marry, the neighbourhood in which we live, who our friends are going to be, and how much money we have to spend.”

The importance of this decision is particularly relevant for the younger generations, and those who are just setting out on their life journeys. Let’s start equipping the next generation with the proper tools and resources they need to make good career choices. London based initiative Spiral does just that, providing training, knowledge and funding for young men and women pursuing early careers.

A career decision does not just affect our working hours and finances, but also the lives we live and the people we are.

For those who have already decided on a career path, there are always new choices to be made. Rather than make regular decisions based on salary alone, put serious thought into how you can improve the broader quality of your life. Remember, a career decision does not just affect our working hours and finances, but also the lives we live and the people we are.

Is it the responsibility of employers to ensure that they are doing all they can to make the working experience a happy and fulfilling one for everyone – or is up to to the employee to push for change?

We say BOTH. Work TOGETHER to make positive change.

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