Love or work - where are we more miserable?

Are our expectations too high when it comes to being fulfilled in both our jobs and relationships?

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 29 Apr 2016

Freud defined normality as the capacity to love and work. However, it seems more accurate to define normality as the tendency to fail at one of the two, for most people are either miserable at work or in their relationship.

For example, engagement surveys report that 70% of people are disengaged, and even in low unemployment economies like the UK, 70% of people are considered passive job seekers (not proactively searching for new jobs, but open to new opportunities). You only need to Google 'my boss is ...' to find out what most people think of their managers, and how traumatised they are by them. Psychological studies show that leadership is a major cause of disengagement and that most people quit their jobs because of their line managers.

Things are hardly better in the realm of love. There are an estimated 5,000 active online dating sites in the English-speaking world alone, and new dating apps are launching almost on a daily basis. In the UK, online and mobile dating are now the most popular way to meet your partner, yet research shows that technology cannot enhance relationship success. First, because the more choices we have, the harder it is to be satisfied with our choices. Second, because technological dating tools make the rich richer and the poor poorer. In addition, as the users of Ashley Madison will have realised, technology makes ending relationships more enticing by increasing the temptation - and opportunities - to cheat.

And yet the secret key to success is the same in love as in work: it's about having certain qualities (eg, attractiveness, intelligence, emotional stability, self-control, and emotional intelligence), making the right choices (maximising fit), and keeping your dark side in check. The main difference is that people are much more willing to put up with an annoying job than an annoying relationship, though fulfilling relationships tend to outlast fulfilling jobs. Perhaps companies should start to offer less career management and more matchmaking services. Equally, those who are in the love market may want to consider whether they can offer any job opportunities to their potential matches.

Or maybe the only way to achieve Freudian normality is to lower our expectations and focus simply on having a job and a relationship, as opposed to enjoying either. When their standards were lower more people were happy - perhaps because they were less concerned with happiness.

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, people analytics, and talent management. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessments and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter: @drtcp

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