In today’s world of work, meaning and purpose are built not found. Purpose, as John Coleman author of Passion & Purpose (HBR, 2011) explained, is “something we must consciously pursue and create and with the right approach, almost any job can be meaningful.” Ivana Pais, economic sociologist at Milan’s Università Cattolica, is carrying out research on this very subject.
Passion & Purpose
More and more people are looking for a second job. You are researching this phenomenon, how did you identify it?
I was studying and gathering data and documentation for some research into the number of people who have more than one job. This research work involves six European countries and is led by the Università Cattolica in Milan. The topic of meaningful work emerged during this research project. We are now carrying out a statistical analysis to try to measure the phenomenon. We noticed the phenomenon from a qualitative point of view and now our goal is to explain it with data.
So, the topic is second jobs, but more statistics are needed?
The statistics we have at European level only provide complete data on first jobs. There is a lack of data on second jobs. However, our initial findings confirm our first impression. Though the distribution is different: there are salaried workers with more than one part-time contract, which they merge together. Then, naturally, there are independent workers who by definition have several clients. What we are trying to reconstruct is if an individual, whether a salaried or independent worker, carries out a number of jobs.
Is this not just a way of safeguarding or supplementing an income? Say, people have one safe source of income and have another job where they do not have this security?
Of course, but as I mentioned the issue of meaningful work has emerged as a significant factor.
The search for meaningful work
In which sector has this search for meaningful work emerged most clearly?
Without doubt within the culture and leisure industry. This is a world where jobs are often no longer considered to be gainful employment: the perception is that in this world, leaving aside the insiders, the outsiders are simply those who can afford to do this work for whatever reason (because they are supported by their families or by other means). Yet in this very same sector, we have noticed that second jobs give back that feeling of purpose.
It is a fact that many people do a so-called ‘normal’ job and have even built themselves a career, but they believe that they find purpose in their second job, the purely cultural job that is usually poorly paid.
In the past, work was associated with forms of expression that generated meaning: voluntary work or engaging in associations.
Do you think this phenomenon is on the rise?
The phenomenon has always existed, but until a few years ago it went undetected. Nowadays, with increasing competition and falling salaries in the cultural world, having two jobs has become the norm.
What is different?
Many of the people we are interviewing tell us that they began working in the culture industry many years ago. Their conviction was: to start at the bottom and in the meantime find themselves a better paid job and build their livelihood. Twenty or thirty years down the line, those people are still in the same situation and having two jobs has become a permanent condition: purpose on the one hand and an income on the other.
Having two jobs has become a permanent condition: purpose on the one hand and an income on the other
Is this a form of cynicism on the part of organisations?
Technically they can be defined as: people who have a made a symbolic investment in a sector, in the belief that one day their time would come but …
Their time never came.
Precisely. But this phenomenon - and this is the most interesting fact - also applies to those entering these industries today and they immediately plan on having more than one job. Whereas for the former group the symbolic investment remains, and they continue to look for purpose in their first job, the newcomers immediately look for this symbolic resource in their second job. This apparent dissociation is an interesting phenomenon because it reveals several characteristics of our systems.
In the past, work was associated with forms of expression that generated meaning: voluntary work or engaging in associations. Investments in purpose took place in the social and interpersonal sphere from which we expected a return. Nowadays however, even in critical times we immediately see the possibility of a return in terms of purpose. In the past we looked for a job, and when we finished work, we tried to carve out time to invest elsewhere. Today, we are looking for that purpose in our jobs. Even when we lose it because we did not feel our job was gratifying. We should study this phenomenon closely because it poses new challenges and brings new opportunities. On a social level too.