Hobbies and career


I spent a chunk of today at a Meccano event at Abbey Pumping Station. The attached photo is of a Meccano reconstruction of a fairground fun house that paticularly impressed me. All in all we had a good time looking at and playing with Meccano. The kids got stuck in to some slightly more modern plastic Meccano and I spent a decent amount of time trying to stop their fingers disappearing into tiny intrectate motors which would undoubtely still have been able to do some damage.

I’m enormously impressed with the time and effort that the enthusiasts put into Meccano. I’ve never really got on with it myself, but I have had a variety of hobbies throughout my life. These have mainly revolved around music in some way, but there have been other enthusiasms that it is probably best not to dwell on e.g. hats, bikes, beer, various genres of film and a huge variety of TV related stuff (which is only on the border of a hobby, but nonetheless you get my point).

However as I walked around looking at the amazing constructions that people have build in Meccano I started to wonder what the impact on people’s wider lives was. I’m currently reading Charles Handy’s Understanding Organisations and one of the things that he talks about in his section on motivation is what he calls the “E value”. E stands for various things like “enthusiasm” and “energy”. Things that there are not fixed amounts of but which are also finite. As a manager we want people with lots of E, but we also want it to be directed towards organisational goals. So does investment of E in hobbies enhance performance at work and focus on career or does it actually create an alternative to it.

I’ve started Googling up some papers on this subject. Have a look at my CiteULike Hobby tab to see what I’ve found so far. I’d appreciate any other suggestions. Probably the most interesting thing that I’ve found so far is a book by Stephen Gelber called Hobbies: leisure and the culture of work in America. From a quick skim I can see that there is a lot of interesting stuff that might be worth thinking about more. For example:

As leisure, hobbies provided a respite from the normal demands of work, but as a particular form of productive leisure they expressed the deeper meaning of the work ethic and the free market. (p.2)

Hobbies gained wide acceptance because they could condemn depersonalised factory and office work by compensating for its deficitis while simultaneously replicating both the skills and values of the workplace. (p.2)
Gelber also talks about how hobbies can stand in for work in the absence of work (retirement or unemployment). He also talks about how hobbies can stand in for a work-based career by providing those who engage in them with an alternative narrative of development and progression.

So how do careers professionals engage with hobbies. Is it the job of the careers professional to help people to consider what to do with their leisure time? Is it dangerous to be suggesting to people that value and personal development could exist outside of the labour market and the formal education system? Perhaps more importantly how would clients react if careers advisers started to ask them what they like to do on a Saturday afternoon rather than focusing on the Monday to Friday?

There is more thinking to do here. Is anyone else doing anything along these lines?


  1. How interesting, and perhaps there could be room for interests and talents to flourish at the workplace too? Did you happen to see the 2-part BBC documentary ‘Bombay Railway’ which was broadcast over the New Year? One of the most fascinating things for me was that the Mumbai Railway workers had their own theatre group established by the employer, which was taken very seriously, and rehearsals took place during working hours. In spite of low pay and difficult working conditions, there was a real sense that the arts were given priority by management and that both participating in and watching performances provided fulfilment to the employees as well as bringing people together. One of the stars of the show, an operations official, was said to be one of the happiest members of staff. Perhaps large organisations in this country could learn from this and ditch the corporate away days in favour of something completely different…

  2. That’s interesting. In Gerber’s book there is some suggestion that hobbies provide a "safe" outlet for spare time. By "safe" he means not challenging the status quo. Your example about the Bombay Railway suggests that this might be right. There are obviously both positive and negative aspects of this, but engaging people in their employing organisation through a range of different interests you might be able to make their working lives happier and more fulfilled. On the other their is just a tinge of "state sponsored fun" about the whole thing and a sense that these things might be designed to prevent the devil making work for idyl hands. As you point out there are likely to be lots of intersections between work and hobbies that careers people might be interested in.

  3. Hi TristramThe Future of Careers Comment:I recently got into discussions with other careers colleagues about the impending lack of public sector jobs and the potential impact of the Big Society on careers. If a lot of caring/supporting/community focused jobs are now going to disappear, and be taken up by the Big Society (ie you can do the work but not get paid for it), will that mean a big shift in careers work? At the graduate end of the market we often focus on "what do you value, what are you passionate about, what excites you – so, which job should you do to allow you to satisfy all those desires, and get paid for it?". I think there’s a real prospect that lots of the jobs which are popular with students, particularly humanities grads, will go – forever, not just frozen for a year or two. Will we have a world where the main focus of work for grads is earning, and the self actualisation is part of your non-work life – which is where hobbies come to the fore? This has always been the case for many people, but a lot of grads have had the expectation that they would earn a living doing something that fit with their passions. In reality, with graduate numbers increasing, many grads have struggled to find that fit, but we still tend to assume that it’s an ideal to aim for. Maybe as advisers, we’ll need to give more hard-nosed messages to students and encourage them to think about how they can realise their dreams by looking at their whole lives, not just the paid work element.Or maybe the Big Society will turn out to be yesterday’s big idea and we’ll have revolution on the streets before the year is out…The Hobbies Comment:But back to hobbies and your original post. If you were taken by the idea of a pumping station, Papplewick Pumping Station was one of my favourite places to visit when it was in steam when I lived in Nottingham, and for music, Goldheart Assembly’s track "The Jesus Wheel", from their debut album, has the most inspired use of a steam engine as a click track.The "Keep up the Blogging" Comment:Yes, we do read your blog, but don’t always get time to post comments. I often find it useful for triggering new ways of thinking about careers. Maybe the 7000 others agree with me!CheersElizabeth

  4. Thanks Elizabeth. Have you noticed I’ve been using your netvibes page as an example of innovative practice in some of my presentations?The point you raise about the Big Society is a good one. The government seem to be presuming that the "market" or the "community" will pick up the delivery of services that they cut. The work that we’ve been doing around the careers market suggests that this isn’t likely to be the case. Careers work is much bigger than the public sector bits, but the public sector funding is important to underpin the whole careers sector. Take that away and you might end up with even less in the rest of the market rather than more.

  5. Glad you like the Netvibes page, Tristram. It’s one of those sites which expands whenever I run a new training course and want to add some resources for the participants. Must find some way to integrate it (and the blog) with our Postgrad website which I’m due to rewrite imminently (once I’ve launched our Academic Careers website in the next couple of weeks).

  6. This sort of ties in with a number of things I???ve been reading about over the last year:1)
    David Gauntlett???s ideas around creativity, crafts and engagement. There???s more on his site at http://www.makingisconnecting.org and a book is forthcoming. One of his contentions is that through making stuff, and sharing it (physically or online), you are allowing yourself to connect better with your world. 2)
    The RSA???s great animation of Dan Pink???s talk about Drive at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc. The idea that people like a sense of mastery over things, which leads them to do things outside of work time, and linking this with the desire for a sense of purpose at work to get at what motivates us.3)
    I was reading Steven Johnson???s ???Where Good Ideas Come From??? last night, and he talks about a shared ???defining attribute??? of Benjamin Franklin, John Snow and Charles Darwin ??? ???They have a lot of hobbies???. Having lots of projects on the go makes the potential cross-fertilisation of ideas more likely, if you are open to the possibility.So, there are ideas of making connections, creativity, doing things well and sense of purpose. In other words, I think you???re on to something???@Elizabeth ??? I???ve just seen your Netvibes page for the first time. Good stuff! I???ve been trying to get something together for us (not very quickly or well!) for the last couple of years at http://www.netvibes.com/sussexcareers. I think it has a lot of potential for careers info, but I keep getting distracted by day-to-day stuff. And the nagging feeling that I haven???t got it quite right yet. You???re inspiring me to have another go!

  7. i found this blog by accident, but as the person who organised the Abbey Pumping Station Meccano day, i was delighted to read your comments. yes our hobby can seriously impact on our lives!! we display at at least one major exhibition a month plus i go into schools / youth groups etc building with children.the house is full of the stuff and i am now banned from the hoover shop!!thanks for your comments,wendy

  8. Glad you enjoyed the post. We’re regulars at the Abbey Pumping station – so I dare say I’ll be down for the next steam day or similar.

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