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Who's in the Video
Todd Rose is the co-founder and president of Populace, a think tank committed to ensuring that all people have the opportunity to pursue fulfilling lives in a thriving society. Prior[…]
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Stand Together
  • Americans are reevaluating their relationship with work. However, collective illusions about the workplace are holding back reform.
  • Many workers believe that their colleagues want to work for an employer that gives them nice fringe benefits — like free food, swag, and fancy job titles.
  • In reality, people want more fulfillment and purpose in their jobs, as well as a healthy work-life balance in which they are trusted to make good decisions.

Collective Illusions is brought to you by Stand Together: a community of changemakers tackling our biggest challenges.

TODD ROSE: The American workforce is reevaluating its relationship to work itself, and I think we're on the cusp of something really profound.

This shift around wanting more fulfillment and purpose at work is being held back by a series of collective illusions. A collective illusion is a situation where most people in a group go along with an idea they don't agree with simply because they incorrectly believe that most people in the group agree with it. Collective illusions will lead me to diminish my home fulfillment. Work that is exploiting, work that benefits the company at the expense of the individual was never the right proposition.

Ever since the 1930s, the bargain has been give up autonomy, give up any kind of control, give up the expectation that work would be fulfilling and just do what we tell you to do. That system fundamentally distrusts people, and we're living with those systems today.

But what's changed is people are no longer willing to be cogs. They're just not. Our priorities for work as an American public have changed. Work doesn't have to be a devil's bargain.

Our most recent work is the American Workforce Index. We didn't just ask people what they wanted. We asked them to make difficult choices, trade offs across 60 different possible priorities for work. And not surprisingly, when we asked people what most people would say, they ranked a prestigious job as being the fifth most important priority for everybody else.

To have your job be viewed as prestigious, that sounds like something people want, right? This is what we chase. But in private, it actually ranked number 55 out of 60. People want to work at places that give them free food and swag, and it's a prestigious organization where I have a prestigious title, where I can make a best friend at work. The things that we are told over and over again, "Go into making a good work culture," in reality, those are some of the least prioritized things for the majority of workers in America today.

To the extent that leadership of companies are under these illusions, they will continue to incentivize and design environments that are no longer a very good fit to the true trade off priorities of the workforce. What people want is work to be a positive part of the rest of their life. They want to be trusted to be able to make decisions about how they do their work, and they are expecting more meaning and purpose in their work. The thing that will hold us back from a good life rather than just working to work are these illusions that keep pulling us back to conformity, to something for which the group no longer actually values.

We all don't have to quit our job and go somewhere else to find fulfillment, that it is closer than we think. And a lot of it is just subtle changes, particularly around giving more control to employees, trusting them more, listening to the things they care about.

From an individual standpoint, it means having conversation with your supervisor, talk about what matters to you. Your silence will only diminish the willingness of the employer to actually make the changes that most people actually want to see. It's okay to have the conversation.

Work absolutely can be a part of a fulfilling life. Most companies need to see that it is not risky, that can trust employees, that you can work hard to create a good fit for more people, and that the result is not chaos, and it does not come at the cost of productivity and profit. Just the opposite.

NARRATOR: This series is brought to you by Stand Together, a community of change makers tackling our biggest challenges. And to learn more about how you can partner with Stand Together, visit