As millions of workers drag themselves back into the office to contemplate another 12 months of drudgery, many will be wondering if they are in the right job.
Writer and mechanic Matthew Crawford thinks a lot of us would be better off trading in our mouse for a screwdriver. His recent book, The Case for Working With Your Hands, has been a huge hit in his native United States, praised by critics and politicians alike.
Mr Crawford, who used to run a Washington think tank but now mends motorbikes, says it is no wonder people are miserable at work. Jobs have become so specialised and process driven that it is hard to see what difference you are making. And in those rare cases where one’s impact is obvious, the result may seem pointless.
“A lot of us are plagued with a sense of uselessness,” he says. “I’ve created a brand – what good is that? So I’ve persuaded people to buy something they didn’t need.”When running a think tank, he says he honestly could not see the rationale for being paid at all, and wondered what tangible goods or services he was providing to anyone.
Then he opened a motorbike repair shop and was surprised to find he was not just happier, but more intellectually stimulated. The life of a tradesman is a varied existence, mixing practicality with logic and problem solving, he says.
“Imagine you’re an electrician, you’re installing a conduit pipe and have to bend around the corners to make everything line up. It’s the kind of work that requires improvisation and adaptation. It can never be reduced to following set procedures.”
Not only that, the earning potential for a tradesman is greater than in many office jobs. For instance, a skilled mechanic is likely to earn more than a sociology graduate working in publishing, he argues.
Not everything about manual work is rosy. He warns that furniture making is not a good career move – Ikea can undercut you by employing workers in China for a fraction of the price. But a range of trades that need to be done on site cannot be outsourced to low wage economies.
After new year introspection, January and February are traditionally one of the busiest periods for moving jobs. Mr Crawford believes doing a trade can make you happier.