Your experience of work really, really matters — this is why

Casey Onder, PhD
3 min readJul 24, 2022


Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash


Profit margins.

Performance ratings.

Bonuses and promotions.

Assuming you take part in the economy, your business/career performance measures are externally defined.

And with the “Great Reset,” industry booms as well as a tight labor market (though that is changing in some sectors), there has been more and more attention on internal, subjective definitions of success — fulfillment and fun among the most popular.

And so we go up and down on a never ending tug of war between employers and employees — how much my work benefits me, versus benefits you.

The battle is waged on a false premise: That people are (fundamentally) selfish, and should be appealed to and treated as such. Two-ish year olds and people with a particular pattern of shadow or with their backs against a wall (in reality or in their perception of it) are primarily acting in selfish ways. The average person in the developed world is well able and inclined to grow out of this, especially when their surrounding subcultures do.

Career KPIs should include external and internal success measures.

Recently I came across an article at Fast Company that mentioned research finding only a small correlation between fun at work and task performance. This is no surprise…

First of all, work is clearly not an act of consumption, for our pleasure. Done ethically and effectively it’s an act of creation and of service — enjoyable or not. To use visceral examples outside of the working world, is giving birth “fun?” I’d venture that a poll of moms would not describe having a baby in those terms… Top athletes aren’t just “having fun” when they’re stretching themselves to their limits. They’re “in the zone.” Fun and flow are two very different experiences. And even when we’re especially passionate about something, we’re still mere mortals: We won’t be passionate all the time.

Second, for concepts as subjective as “fun” and even work performance e.g. for creatives and knowledge workers, moderate to high correlations for anything objectively measurable and widely generalizable will be be hard to find. Strong correlations in social sciences are rare. While it’s not helpful to surrender to a sea of relativism and a statistical shrugging of shoulders, the preponderance of “small correlations” and the invisible nature of psychological phenomena make it relatively easy to spin data to completely opposing perspectives and agendas.

Third and most important IMO, career KPIs should include subjective success measures like fulfillment, energy levels etc regardless of correlations with (task) performance because work is so much more than “doing stuff.” Most of us work the majority of our waking hours. The more important that our work and workplaces are not toxic, draining, self-sabotaging and/or with or for people who we don’t care about or want to help. There’s nothing wrong with making more and better widgets. And — we’re not robots. We all know that there are plenty of companies that have great bottom line outcomes, at least in the short-term, that completely stink as places to work and/or have toxic broader impacts. If we want to do better than we are, we need to redefine what better means and plug into our own humanity. It’s hard to treat others and the world well when we’re cut off from ourselves.

Getting off my soapbox… What are the takeaways for you?

  1. Work fulfillment goes beyond fun. Once basic needs are met, most of us are inclined to want to serve others or a larger cause. Make sure your cup is filled regularly so that you actually want to give, and unmet needs don’t interfere with the impact you want.
  2. A tug of war between happiness and success is a sign you’re ready for a paradigm shift in how you work. External and internal success measures can and IMO should be integrated. Holistic career KPIs include both.
  3. Doing the deeper work to align with your genuine passions and purpose will support you to show up as a more positive force, co-create healthier results, relationships and companies, internally and in terms of impact in the world.

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Casey Onder, PhD

Psychologist, success coach, believer in solid behavioral science and the power of tuning in.