Believe it. In a Washington Post poll of 1,152 adult residents of the Washington metro area, workers overwhelmingly said they were satisfied with their occupations. Asked about how large a role work played in their lives, 75 percent said it was “about right.”
People were asked if they would describe their work as rewarding. Eighty-one percent said yes. They were asked if they would call their job boring. Eighty-eight percent said NO. They were asked to rate their happiness, and 88 percent declared themselves either “very happy” or “pretty happy.”
Though Washingtonians are depicted as around-the-clock worker drones, only 34 percent of those employed full time said they worked more than 50 hours a week. And 87 percent said they were completely or somewhat satisfied with their job.
Where did our stereotypes go wrong?
What about the political operatives responding to e-mails on their BlackBerrys at 11 p.m., or the federal bureaucrats trudging into the Department of Paper Shuffling at 5:15 a.m.? Where do they fit into this rose-colored picture of well-balanced life?
The answer is that they are a piece of it. But the bigger piece is the quieter Washington that is far more diverse than politicians and federal workers. In interviews with a number of these poll respondents, we found residents of all demographic and geographic stripes determined not to let their work dominate them. We found people focused on spending time with kids, spouses, boats — intent on finding jobs that are fulfilling and meaningful, yet not overwhelming.
“I work to live, not the other way around,” said Annie O’Connell, 60, of Potomac, who works for a high-end furniture maker. “My family life will always take precedence. With my company, it’s the way they see it, too. If something comes up with my family, I’m encouraged to take care of that. I would say there’s a very nice balance.”
A number of respondents said their employers were willing to be flexible with hours and offered the opportunity to telecommute. It seems like a significant shift from the days of punching the clock and rigid worker control by the bosses.
“I think the good companies” are more sensitive to employees’ needs than before, said Becky Feldbush, 42, a graphic designer from Olney. Her current company allows her flexibility as needed, and when she formerly managed a staff in Ohio, the same flexibility created employees who were “much more loyal” and willing to work hard.
“I feel that’s the case now with me as an employee,” Feldbush said. “I’m so dedicated to giving them 100 percent.”
Mark Schmit, vice president of research for the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, said he moved here from the Midwest, and “I see a lot more people that come in at 10 and leave at 4 than anywhere in my life. I think it’s the type of jobs that allow for folks to do more outside the office. . . . Technology has really made it possible to do the workplace-flexibility thing. We can be at our son’s recital and still be working.”