The seven components of good work

“Just follow your passion!”

This is perhaps the most frequently given career advice of our time. Find something you love to do, and go do it. 

After all, people who are successful in their careers are often passionate about their day job. It makes sense, right?

Wrong. ‘Follow your passion”, for most of us, is pretty unhelpful career advice:

  • Some of us have too many passions at the start of our careers and don’t know which one to prioritise. Equally, some of us need to try many different options before finding a passion for anything. Telling people to follow a single passion that they may not yet have can be disheartening, and lead to feelings of inadequacy.
  • It is true that many successful people are passionate about what they do. But often this passion derives from the mastery and success they attain in a given field, rather than coming earlier. 
  • Finally, the “follow your passion” mantra can often steer us towards ‘outputs’ – the things we most enjoy consuming. (“I love listening to Radio 4, so I think I would enjoy being a broadcast interviewer.”) But this logic is flawed. The things we enjoy consuming aren’t necessarily the things we enjoy doing as our job. And by focusing on outputs, we write off whole areas of the economy as sources of good work because they don’t relate directly to these outputs. 

So instead of focusing on outputs, it is much better to focus on inputs – what, for you, are the components of good work? 

When you start asking this question, you begin to see that good work exists in a far broader range of jobs than you might have first realised. 

We think there are seven key components to good work:

1. A job you can become good at

Being good at your job helps you enjoy it more. It also builds career capital, which gives you influence and opens up interesting options later in life. 

Besides, the most successful people in a field account for a disproportionately large fraction of the impact, and having an impact is an important component of good work. 

If you’re unsure how to match your strengths to a civil service role, HIPE’s career coaching can help you think about what your skillset is and identify impactful career paths across Government. Or take a look at our job search tool to see what opportunities are out there.

2. Flow

Work is enjoyable and engaging if it enables you to enter a state of flow – the mental state of feeling completely immersed in a feeling of energised focus and enjoyment. 

Work that induces this desirable state has four defining characteristics:

  • Clear tasks;
  • Freedom to decide how to perform each task; 
  • Quick feedback; and
  • High variety of work. 

3. Helping others

Helping others gives your work a sense of purpose. 

To maximise your impact, focus on the most urgent social problems, rather than those you stumble into – those that are big in scale, neglected and solvable. 

Create a mission around one of these problems, where your skills intersect with the needs of the world. 

4. Psychological safety

If you work as part of a team, this team’s culture will be vitally important to your levels of job satisfaction. 

Above all else, any team you work in should foster a psychologically safe environment – one in which you can express your ideas and feelings without becoming insecure or embarrassed. 

5. Fit with personal life

No matter how enjoyable your work is, you will eventually resent it if it does not fit the lifestyle you want to create for yourself. 

Find work that will provide you with significant autonomy over your time and location, once you have built up sufficient career capital. 

6. Future proof

It’s important to find work that will, as far as possible, equip you with the skills that are likely to remain valuable in the years and decades to come. 

Research tells us that the jobs that are least likely to become automated in the coming years are those requiring high levels of problem solving, creativity and social intelligence. 

7. No major downsides

Good work also means avoiding major downsides. Major downsides will differ for everyone, but common ones are unfair pay, discrimination, job insecurity, long hours, a long commute or a bad boss. 

Want to explore what the Civil Service has to offer? The recently developed Civil Service careers website gives potential applicants valuable insights into different roles, teams and departments.

Further reading

To Find Work You Love, Don’t Follow Your Passion, 80,000 Hours

What Makes for a Dream Job, 80,000 Hours  

The Input / Output Confusion, The Book of Life

The Puzzle of Motivation, Dan Pink

Introduction to Effective Altruism, EffectiveAltruism.org

The Five Keys to a Successful Google Team, Google re:Work

A Guide to Using your Career to Help Solve the World’s Most Pressing Problems, 80,000 Hours