In real estate the old maxim is location, location, location. When it comes to building a person’s self-esteem and enjoying the positive effects that it can ultimately have on our communities, the new maxim is jobs, jobs, jobs!

A 2013 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index study concluded that, “Work means so much to us Americans that without it some people don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.” Based on his experience with his clients, psychotherapist, Charles Allen, also reaffirms that, “Self-esteem and self-worth are closely aligned with working.”

In all my years working in the people industry, my own experience shows that nothing builds self-esteem more than the empowerment that comes from having a job. Now, finally, after all these years it seems like the realization that working provides so much more than a paycheck is starting to hit home for researchers and policy makers alike. 

Studies clearly show that a job not only provides money and a sense of independence, but it helps define who we are and, if we’re really lucky, helps fulfill a purpose in life. Research by Marie Johoda found that work provides some basic needs that fulfill who we strive to be as human beings. 

It provides structure in our lives, meets a need for social contact with others and helps establish a sense of identity and status within our communities. Having access to a job and actually being employed can begin to provide a solid foundation in developing happy, healthy, satisfied and well-rounded people. A job also brings the most cherished of all American rights — freedom. And getting on the road to financial freedom will begin to dramatically affect mental and physical heath as well as relationships at home and in our communities.

For the past half century we have experienced significant changes in the needs of our workforce development systems, from learning how to deal with a far more diverse and aging workforce, to changes in how we all work because of technological advances in every field. But, one thing has remained constant. That is the fact that nothing builds self-esteem, self-respect and an overall sense of self-worth like having a job. Take it one step further and turn that job into one in which you also have a deep passion for and the positive effects on people, personally, and within their community, increases exponentially.

It should also come as no surprise that these positive influences also reflect in the ultimate well-being of our communities. In fact, they go hand in hand. Satisfied, happy citizens/workers create meaningful, healthy communities. It would seem that if working can have such a positive and dramatic effect on people, that creating or developing jobs is a pretty obvious step to take in order to bring out the best in people. However, if you look back on policies and programs enacted over the past 50 years, that action may not be so obvious. In fact, a closer look reveals just the opposite

Two significant philosophical challenges ought to be addressed by every community leader and advocate.

The first challenge at the local level is to create a dynamic environment where communities become the source of opportunities to work and where we educate and train people in skills that match those jobs that become available.

Although the premise is really simple, the actual implementation is another story. If city and town leaders, in especially our poorest communities, want to truly improve the quality of life for their citizenry, they should be beating the bushes and making bringing jobs to their communities their first and foremost priority; almost to the exclusion of everything else.

Nothing is more important to guaranteeing a community’s vibrancy than citizens being able to earn an income. Unfortunately, in the past, this has been an approach too many officials have either given lip service to or have chosen to ignore. Unless it is a huge pharmaceutical, web-based or highflying software company, civic leaders simply can’t get their minds around anything less. After all, wooing smaller companies with solid blue-collar jobs is just not sexy enough. There should also be a process to hold these community leaders accountable for a net gain or loss of jobs on a year to year basis. These leaders need to walk the walk and not just talk it.

The second effort we need to make is to take a harder look at past policies that have been enacted over the past 50 years or so. Despite good intentions, in far too many cases, policies have served to discourage participation in the workforce by especially low-wage earners; those who most need the positive influencers that a job brings. 

Those policies have emphasized an all or nothing approach — either work and lose needed benefits like rental assistance, food stamps or daycare or quit working and be guaranteed these supplemental benefits. People living in the margins and employed at typically low paying jobs, too often find it easier to quit working because of the false security of a government handout. That kind of decision, while appearing to make sense at first, inevitably leads to a loss of self-esteem, loss of freedom and little hope for a successful future.

In reality, it is actually expensive to remain out of work and poor. It would make more sense to refigure the welfare or assistance system to one that actually encourages rather than discourages working. The approach I am suggesting would not only promote the positive and meaningful side of employment, but, at the same time, make use of the talent wasting away in our communities.

The reality we need to face is that it does no good to have capable and able workers sitting on the sidelines wasting their talent; whatever that talent may be. We have to create policies that put people to work. Anything less, no matter how good intentioned, results in the destruction of the hopes and dreams of too many people; hopes and dreams that have historically made this country great.

It’s time to take a fresh look at our priorities and acknowledge the very real relationship between creating lives that matter through jobs and the subsequent well-being of our communities. By establishing environments at the local level to encourage business incubation and growth and by crafting policy that supports and encourages the individual to learn and grow through work opportunities we will all be far better off as a result. 

If we are ever going to turn around especially our poorer cities, we must rethink our priorities and focus our efforts in attracting and keeping small to mid-size businesses that have historically created and provided solid, steady growing jobs. Those are the kinds of companies and the kind of jobs that will appeal best to cities with unskilled, low-skilled and semi-skilled workforces. 

Although this approach can seem time consuming and its results slow to come to fruition, experience has taught those of us working in the trenches that it is an option worth pursuing if we are to provide substantial benefits to citizens looking for rewarding work and to communities looking to turn themselves around.

Successfully meeting these challenges will create an encouraging environment where individuals and communities will thrive to their fullest potential. And we can all be assured that there is nothing more satisfying than knowing your life matters.

Tom Connors is the President and CEO of American Training in Andover. If you would like to contribute a column to North of Boston Business Sunday, please email Editor Rosemary Ford at rford@eagletribune.com.

Trending Video

Recommended for you