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Jaques, E. (1960). Disturbances in the Capacity to Work. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 41:357-367.

(1960). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41:357-367

Disturbances in the Capacity to Work

Elliott Jaques

In its most general sense, work as conceived by Freud (2) (and I am here concerned with work in the psychological sense only) is the mental energy or effort expended in striving to reach a goal or objective by means of the operation of the reality principle, and in the face of the demands of the pleasure principle. If we examine this activity closely, however, a number of important features claim our attention.

The operation of the reality principle leads to delayed rather than immediate gratification. It requires the exercise of discretion (in the sense of judgement, and not the social sense of being discreet) in determining which courses of action will eventually lead to the best result. Discrimination and judgement must be used, and decisions made. Decision contains the uncertainty of the wisdom of the choice, and calls for the capacity to tolerate uncertainty while awaiting the final outcome, and possible failure.

This uncertainty, however, it must be noted, has a special quality. The use of discretion depends upon unconscious as well as conscious mental functioning—the capacity for synthesis of unconscious ideas and intuitions and bringing them into consciousness. We may not be surprised to find, therefore, that at the core of this uncertainty lies anxiety—the anxiety aroused by having to depend for success upon the coherence and availability of unconscious mental life.

I was able to confirm this conclusion in social-analytic work in industry which I have reported elsewhere (6).

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