Is Having a Great Job the Next Human Rights Issue?

Today, our organizations are a lot of things…

They are the economic engines of the world. For example, did you know that of the top 150 economic entities in the world, 58% of those entities are corporationsnot nations/countries?

They are the places where we occupy some most of our time. Where do we spend more of our life than at work? Nowhere.

They are the things that most prominently dictate the way we live. The way we dress, the amount of vacation we get to take, and the people we see most often — all determined primarily by our workplace.

Yes, our organizations are many things. One thing they are NOT, however — at least for most of us — is a center of wellbeing.

People who write (and obsess) about the things I write (and obsess) about often reference statistics and studies about things like employee engagement. You’ve probably heard stats like two out of every three people in the US are not engaged at work. This is true, terrible, and a helpful measurement for us to understand what’s going on, but what if there’s an even bigger problem to contend with?

What if there’s an even bigger problem to contend with?

When we start to think about our work being the “sun” that the rest of our lives orbit around, I think a larger, more all-encompassing, more holistic picture is probably in order.

Something like “wellbeing” starts to make more sense.

But wellbeing at work isn’t a pretty picture. Only 12% of employees strongly agree that they have substantially higher overall wellbeing because of their employer. 12%! I’m no mathematician, but by my calculations that’s approximately no one whose life is significantly improved by their workplace.

I dare say this issue will become one of the defining human rights issues of our time.

I dare say this issue will become one of the defining human rights issues of our time.

“Now, wait a minute!” you might say in response. At first glance, having a great workplace doesn’t sound nearly as serious as many other human rights issues our society is faced with — it sounds like a “nice to have,” not a “need to have.” But from a Maslow hierarchy standpoint, an organization that promotes your wellbeing is exactly what we need to have.

A workplace that makes your life better is directly connected to the foundational levels of your needs pyramid. Your job is the way you buy the food you need for sustenance and how you pay for the roof over your noggin’, of course. But it also has an enormous impact on your health and even your mortality rate. It directly affects how much sleep you get (which then directly impacts how well you perform at work). It influences the friends you have and how much you see your family. Research from Gallup even goes so far to say that “Having a job that is disengaging is, in many ways, worse psychologically than having no job at all.”

It might be good to read that last sentence one more time.

“Having a job that is disengaging is, in many ways, worse psychologically than having no job at all.”

Everything in this article is not just my opinion. This is research based on science and empirical study, and more is piling up daily.

While a “great job” may not be a human rights issue at the level of pure survival, it’s pretty closely tied to many (if not most) of our fundamental needs as human beings. Furthermore, as more of our global citizens are lifted out of poverty and into the working population, the worldwide NEED for meaningful work may very well become one of the most pressing human rights issues of tomorrow.

If we’re smart, we’ll start working on it today.


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Image credit: fixer00 / 123RF Stock Photo

Josh Allan Dykstra is a recognized thought leader on the future of work and company culture design. His articles and ideas have been featured by Fast Company, Forbes, Business Insider,, and Under30CEO. He is a co-founder of The Work Revolution, a movement + campaign that advocates for life-giving work environments and a co-founder of Strengths Doctors, a consulting firm that helps leaders and entrepreneurs design energizing places to work. Josh's eclectic background includes projects with organizations like Apple, Sony, Genentech, HTC, Starbucks, UCLA and Viacom/CBS as well as startups, nonprofits, and universities. He holds an MBA in Executive Leadership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his new book, Igniting the Invisible Tribe: Designing An Organization That Doesn’t Suck, is available on Connect with him online at

  • Chris Willis

    At risk of sounding more harsh than I intend, I can’t help but think that in many ways this is a whine reserved for the privileged: “Having a job that is disengaging is, in many ways, worse psychologically than having no job at all.” Frankly, I’m much more concerned about the number of people who are disenfranchised from steady work at wages and benefits that ensure they can meet the needs at the bottom tiers of Maslow’s pyramid. Those of us who are working anywhere near the top have other options – and if we are not engaged with our current job, we should simply exercise those options and find something else to do. Meantime, I believe the emerging “free agent” nature of the workforce will begin to force organizations to compete harder for the best talent – and when that happens, they will learn how to engage their workforce or settle for overall mediocrity and eventually fail to compete.

  • A human right Josh? Surely you josh or are you pushing for another government program by which to do more damage to the middle class? :)

    I must agree with Chris in that it sounds like a whine reserved for the privileged. I also agree with Chris’ comment about what will happen one day to those who fail to learn how to create an engaged workforce.

    That said, I am well aware of the terrible damage the command and control pig does to today’s employees even when lipsticked up with Myers-Briggs, 360, rewards, and the like. As Chris points out, employees don’t have to be damaged if they use their god-given power to ignore it – “stick and stones will hurt my bones but words will never harm me”. Unfortunately, the vast majority do not use that power and instead choose to conform without knowing it.

    The really sad thing is that leadership is wildly misunderstood by educators, gurus, consultants, and leaders. Leaders don’t know their own power, the power to create high motivation or low, high morale and low. They view their power as the power to direct (ever tried directing someone to have high morale?) when in fact their power is in the power to lead since people can be led to high morale and high motivation. Leaders also don’t know that the possible performance gain is as Stephen Covey told us 500%, not 5% or 50% but 500%.

    Having created several highly motivated, highly motivated, fully engaged workforces of Superstars who loved to come to work to collaborate with other Superstars, I validated a simple script for doing so. I believe that the gains in employee well-being were too amazing for words. As the wife of one of my people said to me, thank you for giving me back the man I married. A union steward remarked to me about 1.5 years after I took over a 1300 person group “I don’t know what you do Ben, I don’t want to know what you do, but I do want you to continue doing whatever you are doing because for 15 years I hated to come to work here but now I love it.”

  • Elizabeth_Nadler

    Although I understand that lack of engagement at work is problematic, frankly, I’m much more concerned at this point with those who are unemployed or are employed at wage rates that don’t cover their basic needs – as Chris Willis said – Maslow’s hierarchy.

    That said, I would agree with Ben Simonton that leaders need to understand that theirs is the power to lead, not to direct.

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