Is it money or meaningful work?

Work-life balance is one of those buzz words that characterizes the zeitgeist of our times. We live busy, hectic lives and, in order to control all this activity, we often separate our different spheres of activity into compartments of work, family, socializing, romancing, education, politics, religion, and so on.

This compartmentalizing also extends to our mental and emotional lives, to what we do and believe, to what we value. Work-life balance is about aligning our being with our doing.

Easier said than done, right? In fact, there is strong evidence to support the conclusion that there is very little work-life balance in our lives. We might want it…but we can’t get it!

Highest levels of job stress

One major study commissioned by Health Canada[1] found that the highest levels of job stress and depression in Canadian public servants were found in Ontario public employees at municipal, provincial and federal levels:

“While they may earn the nation’s highest average salaries, Ontario workers reported the lowest levels of job satisfaction and the highest intention to leave.”

Reducing work-life conflicts is not a high priority for most employers even though doing so is proven to be a major factor in better job performance, according to Paul Fairlie[2], a researcher that I spoke with recently. He designs and conducts surveys related to meaningful work. He says that the same 9-10 dimensions keep coming up in research.

Is it money or is it meaningful work?

It’s both. It’s a two-stage motivational process. People need a certain amount of money to be comfortable and to feel appreciated at a level similar to others doing the same job. Beyond these few extrinsic drivers, the vast majority of people pursue intrinsic rewards, e.g. meaning-based goals and values.

Some people can be cynical about these kinds of results, and prefer to pursue extrinsic goals, such as money, prestige, status, power; rather than intrinsic goals, such as meaning or socially useful work. But the research clearly shows that money rarely shows up as a major influence on motivation and behaviour once basic needs are met.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Rewards

Instead, studies are consistent in showing that most people are, in fact, more intrinsically-motivated. If they become more extrinsically-motivated, it’s because of negative work experiences. Let’s face it, work can be a pretty harsh environment, involving layoffs, unfair dismissals, nepotism, corruption, and so on. It’s no wonder that many individuals acquire a cynical attitude: “Fool me once, shame on me…try to fool me twice, forget it, just pay me!”

As Paul learned from surveys, it is understandable that many people are more likely to choose a raise over more meaningful work, but that doesn’t stop them from wanting more interesting work. His research demonstrates that most employees still want self-actualizing work; they want to make a social impact; they want personal goals/values alignment with jobs/work/employers; they truly want a sense of personal accomplishment.

When they get it, they are more likely to stay with their employer and report higher levels of satisfaction, commitment, engagement, and discretionary effort.

Meaningful Work Index

Furthermore, the higher they score on his Meaningful Work Index (MWI), the more likely they are to experience fewer physical and mental health symptoms. He reviewed 2 national studies in 50 states and found that employees with a high MWI score measured low burnout, low depression, low stress, and low anxiety.

However, when employees don’t find meaningful work with their employers, they disengage–the rate of days lost to sickness and loss of productivity rises dramatically. Indeed, the stats suggest that a growing fringe of Americans and Europeans are withdrawing from work as a meaningful life pursuit.

Work-life balance enables individuals to become self-reliant, make informed choices and find satisfying and fulfilling work and lifestyles in today’s rapidly changing labor markets.

Leaving large orgs for lifestyles business

Many of them are leaving the world of institutionalized work and creating a lifestyles business, which is a small enterprise that shares the following characteristics:

– Set up and run by its founders
– Aim of sustaining a particular income level from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle
– Does not require extensive capital to launch or sustain (limited scalability or potential for growth)
– Suitable for sole practitioners, husband-and-wife-teams, or small groups in “creative industries”
– Dependent on founder skills, personality, energy, and contacts
– Founders create them to exercise personal talent or skills, achieve a flexible schedule, work with other family members, remain in a desired geographic area, or simply to express themselves

Creating such a business isn’t for everybody but more people than ever are leaving their corporate jobs to try it for themselves.
———————
[1] “Where to Work in Canada: An examination of regional differences in Work-Life Practices,” Health Canada survey, Linda Duxbury & Chris Higgins, Ottawa’s Sprott School of Business, 2001
[2] Paul Fairlie, Ph.D., President & CEO, Paul Fairlie Consulting, Advancing the Science & Meaning of Work

Imagine working for a great boss every time!

Today is National Boss Day. 3 out of 4 employees report that their boss is the most stressful part of their job! More employees would prefer a new boss over a pay rise when it comes to improving their satisfaction at work. Ouch!

If you have a great boss, show your appreciation. Good or bad, bosses are a fact of life, and have been since ancient economies established master-slave relationships—the Pyramids were not built with collective agreements!

While workplaces today are (perhaps?) a little more humane, most of us have to navigate the power dynamics that go with any employer-employee relationship.

Some individuals are very flexible and can adapt to the operating style any boss. The rest of us actually have a preference for being managed. In fact, certain management styles bring out the best in us.

Operating Style of your boss can lead to conflict

I’m not talking about personalities here—whether your boss is warm, cold, two-faced, compassionate, analytical, judgmental, whatever. I’m referring to their operating style and the way that you, as an employee, best relate to authority.

For example, some employees need a hands-off relationship with a boss who allows them to exercise independent control over their specific area of responsibility. If they end up with a boss with a ‘directorial’ style—one who wants them to operate and perform in the manner the boss identifies as correct, appropriate, or most effective—then conflict is inevitable.

Without a clear understanding of this dynamic, we can get ourselves into a lot of hot water with bosses. As a career expert for the past 20 years, I have seen employer-employee conflicts played out in all kinds of scenarios…many of which could’ve been avoided or minimized if the individual—whether they were a boss or subordinate—had clarity about their preferred management style.

How do you prefer to be managed?

Most of us have never been taught or shown how to interview a potential boss for their preferred operating style, or how to negotiate with a boss in order to help them manage us in a way that brings out the best in us.

For example, if you function most effectively under a manager who provides you with initial support and direction at the outset of a new assignment of responsibility, then leaves you pretty much alone to carry it out…you probably need to learn how to tactfully help them do so.

But, if you get stuck with a micro-manager, you’ll have to grin and bear it, wait them out (the average tenure of a middle level manager is 2.5 years), or find another job–because this is a clash of styles that cannot be resolved through negotiation.

Many clients have described to me “a great boss” who provides intermittent support and direction at key points in a task, assignment, or responsibility. For them, the right manager offers assistance in making critical decisions. These individuals work best when they can count on their boss to have their back when unforeseen difficulties arise.

Others actually work most effectively with a micro-manager, a boss who provides continuous support throughout—touching base frequently and offering direction and advice when needed. But, if they end of up with a boss with a leader style, who prefers to paint the big picture and inspire others to follow him/her (or their program, cause, or mission) and leave the details to others, then they might dismiss this manager as inept or ‘political.’

Collaborate means to co-labor

In some cases, I have met clients who remember a single ‘great boss’ experience, followed by a series of bad bosses. A deeper analysis of their motivating situations reveals that they function most effectively under a manager who treats them as an equal, who works with them as though you were involved in a joint effort. In order to thrive at work, these individuals need an open-minded manager who has a genuine interest in their ideas and suggestions, as well as one who offers suggestions and advice when they ask for it or need it. When they don’t get it, they blame the boss.

Some even quit their jobs and go solo, only to discover they hate working on their own and need the dynamic of a workplace to bring out the best in them but they don’t know what that is until we do a deep analysis of their enjoyable experiences at work and outside of work. Then we discover they thrive in situations where they collaborated with others towards a goal.

Collaborate comes from ‘co-labour,’ or working together, and this kind of dynamic between employer and employee does not occur often, although when it does occur, interestingly enough, it tends to be a female boss who prefers to interact with subordinates in a participatory rather than authoritative fashion, preferring not to rely on administrative policies but on keeping others involved and keeping the momentum going.

There are bad bosses and good bosses in the world of work. But each of us can learn to better manage our relationships with authority by understanding what operating style used by a boss brings out the best in us. Then we can help create that at work or, at the very least, look for a manager who prefers to work with our preferred style.

“When are people going to see me for what I am — an impostor?”

I’ve heard this question many times from clients. It might be a guy who became a teacher because he didn’t know what else to do but, truthfully, he doesn’t like working with kids every day. Instead, he sees all the flaws in the system and is inclined to be a catalyst for change, making suggestions, getting others involved in projects to improve things.

But, he doesn’t dare presume to do so because he doesn’t have the qualifications or credentials to speak or act according to his natural inclinations. “Why would anyone listen to me?”

Or, it might be a woman who rose from Receptionist to VP. She has a gift for
managing others, for harnessing their strengths, talents, preferences, and
motivations of others. She is adept at determining what sort of work people
are suited for, what will encourage them, and how their talents may be used to
further corporate goals and objectives.

But everyday she goes to work thinking, “I’m not a REAL manager because I lack
an MBA or other degree, formal training, piece of paper, recognition that tells
me and others what I am, and when people find out that I have no credentials
other than what I’ve done, I will be cast out!”

In both cases, our social self is talking. Think about this for a minute. We
are swallowed up by the world and its systems and values. Society hands us
templates for acceptance. This is the development of the social self—that part
of us that wants desperately to “fit in” to society.

We are, after all, social beings who want to be liked and loved by others. We
spend our lives trying to become someone that people will like or look up to.
In doing so, we sometimes harbor feelings of inadequacy–we’re not competent
enough, sooner or later we’ll be exposed for what we are—a fraud!

This impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals are
unable to own up to their strengths, or their accomplishments. It causes them
to feel like a fake, with a public face of competence that everyone sees, but
another private face of anxiety, worry, or fear. Instead of feeling like an
integrated whole, they feel fragmented, compartmentalized, or conflicted about
who they are and what they do.

Why?

Because we want to be recognized and rewarded for our authentic self. This is
our natural desire as human beings.

The word authentic is related to the notion of truthfulness—it’s about being
genuine, honest, faithful, reliable, the real thing. In philosophical terms,
it’s about living a life that is purposeful, meaningful, significant, in which
your being is aligned with your doing.

We want to experience congruence between who we are and what we do. We feel
like impostors when are feelings are grounded in what we ‘can do’ or ‘have to,’
instead of our natural strengths.

Being authentic for some, like the teacher mentioned above, is to acknowledge
that teaching is not what he really wanted in the first place. He might not
know what he wants specifically, but he knows generally that he wants more of a
fit between who he is and what he does for a living.

By focusing on those times in his life when he’s doing what he enjoys most and
doing it well, and having those stories analyzed by a story expert like myself,
he can get an accurate and reliable picture of his right work and have it
matched to the kinds of work that will recognize, reward and motivate him for
what he does naturally and effortlessly.

Each day his ideas, assumptions, beliefs about reality are being shaped by a
job experience that forces him to do something he does not want to do. He
needs to see how his strengths match up to better jobfits, ones that are
financially viable and attainable without further education. When he does, he
will have a vocabulary to communicate to others with clarity and confidence how
he can add value to an organization as a catalyst.

For the receptionist turned VP, an analysis of her stories will create a
picture of her full motivational pattern. She will see how she cannot do what
she was born to do in terms of taking overall responsibility for accomplishing
a goal or getting something done through actively directing or managing the
efforts of others.

In the past, she may have been criticized by a parent or another significant
person in life; perhaps, her natural strength was not appreciated or approved
by them; or, perhaps the expression of her natural talents was not appropriate
in certain social situations and caused problems.

Our strengths have a flip side; in some situations they are actually a weakness
or detriment to our goals, e.g. treating your siblings, friends, spouse or
children as employees who must operate or perform in the manner that you have
identified as most effective, might produce results at work but creates
friction on the home front.

By getting an accurate picture of her motivational pattern, she can leverage
her strengths in a more conscious and direct manner into her job and delegate
her non-strengths to others that complement her strengths, thereby increasing
her managerial effectiveness, instead of letting her feelings of inadequacy
drive her performance.

Do you feel like an impostor? Relax. You can integrate your being with your
doing.

The understanding you need to do so is closer than you might think, right under
your nose, in the facts, people and events of your personal story.

There is no need to suffer stress, worry, anxiety or fear about your work
identity. You are not a fraud!

The truth of who and what you are in terms of work will launch you to a new
level of success, one that will support and energize you to work with more
clarity and power.

You can be who you are and do what comes naturally for a living!

Dry Your Eyes

A client walked into my office recently saying that she needed a new career because her current one was making her sick; so sick, in fact, that she could not hold back the tears.

In this case, as in so many others, she got stuck in a toxic work environment with an abusive boss and/or co-workers.

Often a bad situation is made worse by a number of stressful factors, such as unreasonable workloads; or the prospect of an impending layoff due to a change in the economy; or the expectation that they be available 24/7; or a change of job conditions from flex-time at home to face-time in the office; or the fear of being squeezed out of competitive due to lack of educational credentials; or the unspoken pressure from family to maintain a high income at any price.

Whatever the circumstances, my client feels an overwhelming need to get out of her current job. Her short term goal is to avoid the pain. The long term goal is to find a better jobfit…if she only knew what it was! In the meantime, her priority is to maintain or improve her compensation package.

So, in fact, there are two contradictory goals at work here: my client wants a new job that will giver her more vitality and joy, but she also wants to avoid financial insecurity.

In order to avoid a future that might be financially insecure, she can’t take action to move out of her current job field because she doesn’t know what else to do; therefore, to move now means she might end up financially insecure. Damned if she does take action, damned if she doesn’t–this is the essence of being stuck.

She is likely to remain stuck for as long as she seeks a long term solution to a short term problem. What do I mean by that?

A career transition is not the solution to a short term problem. A transition takes time. It is best undertook during a period of stability without overwhelming financial or psychological pressures. A transition is oriented around creating the kind of life you want; it is not oriented around problem solving.

In order to solve her current problem, my client is learning to separate her contradictory goals. Her toxic work environment is a short term problem requiring a short term solution.

As distasteful as it is for her, she realizes that her best chance of getting out of her toxic environment, while maintaining her current pay check, is to do the same thing for another org; or, cross the street, and purchase the services (that she is now selling) for large orgs. Or, she can repackage her skills and market them for a related but different job target.

Sure, her current job is something she no longer wants to do. But she is not stuck there forever (it just feels like that right now). Feelings come and go: sometimes we are in love, sometimes not.

Most of us get angry, fearful, joyful, anxious, happy, sad, and so on, at different times in different circumstances. Why should feelings govern our commitment to taking actions to achieve our goals?

Some days I don’t feel like writing, or seeing my clients, or cooking dinner but I do them anyways, not because I have to but because these actions help me create what really matters to me. Feelings are temporary.

My client has dried her tears and realizes that the first thing she needs to do is take care of herself by getting out of her toxic environment. She needs to get into another job for the SHORT term in order to build up the capacity to make a transition over the LONG term.

Making progress towards a long term goal is about building the life you want. My client now understands that her long term goal to have a career that fits her deepest values and top priorities is possible but takes time and energy, two things that are in short supply when she is in crisis.

First, get out of the crisis, then take the time to transition.

Like the song says, ‘Dry your eyes and take your song out, it’s a newborn afternoon.’

Dry Your Eyes, Neil Diamond & The Band
(From my all time favorite concert movie The Last Waltz)

How high do you bounce?

Everybody gets knocked down in life, everybody. When you have a goal or objective in life, does the universe allow you to achieve it quickly or easily? Not likely. We live in a universe of adversity.

Our best laid plans, our deepest desires, our clearest objectives will run into opposition. Whatever path we are on, we will run into roadblocks and obstacles. The nature of reality is adversity.

This is a new year. And you can expect to get knocked down this year at some point. For example, I just got off the phone with a client who recently made a career change, one that has changed her life dramatically. “I feel like I can breathe again,” she says. “I’ve got my life back.” She loves her new job and is very happy she switched careers.

However, there is adversity in her situation. She has been parachuted into a key position with this company, and she is facing resentment from co-workers who undermine her enthusiasm with gossip and petty actions. The director of her division regularly criticizes her performance, sometimes with verbal abuse. On the worst days, she wants to quit.

Eric Hoffer, an American philosopher, wrote: “Our achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are our failures, discouragements, and doubts. We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and our present difficulties as signs of failure and decay.”

Everybody fails, everybody. It is normal. You can expect to fail this year at some point. You will have a strong desire to do or get something and you will not attain it. You will set a goal and not achieve it. In fact, the year starts with resolutions, most of which are never fulfilled. But the odd setback here and there does not a year make.

Life goes on. The setback does not last. Don’t confuse failure with defeat. I love that quote from General George Patton, the WWII hero: “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.” Failure is a temporary condition; defeat is an attitude.

Most of us play or watch sports because sports reflect the nature of reality—adversity. In each game or contest, every player is trying to score or win. In order to do so, the players and teams must overcome their adversaries. Every player gets knocked down. The key is to get up and focus on what really matters to you.

Life is not a game but it is a structured event, full of circumstances around which we have no control as individuals. Adversity is woven into the very fabric of life. Life owes us nothing. We are entitled to nothing. We are simply given the opportunity to face adversity head on.

We consciously or unconsciously do the things that make us successful or unsuccessful. For example, we are in control of our attitude, of how we respond to circumstances. You will encounter both good and bad circumstances throughout your life; how you respond to them is your choice.

You can choose to be passive, and simply accept whatever life sends your way. Or, you can choose to take actions that will move you closer to what really matters to you. Yes, there will be roadblocks, obstacles, and adversaries that get in the way. By we can choose to meet them head on. That takes courage and strength of mind. To quote General Patton again: “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.”

Let me close by going back to my client who got a new job but inherited a bad boss and jealous co-workers. As bad as this might appear to be, it is nothing in comparison to the toxic work environment she left last year. I have seen this scenario hundreds of times over the past 20 years. A new year rolls around with a new set of challenges. We live in a universe of adversity; what does not break us makes us stronger.

She is learning to stand up for herself, setting boundaries, and focusing on priorities. Vitality is nurtured by overcoming adversity. We grow personally and professionally by confronting and overcoming challenges. May you bounce back all year long!
BounceBack

Brain Food for Job Change

Science has learned a lot about how the brain works during the past 50 years. For example, the physical brain, made up of brain matter, blood vessels, nerves, neurons, and so on, can be repaired, even rewired, and circuits regenerated. The brain is capable of creating new structures that can make it more effective—an awesome wonder indeed!

The mind is our intellectual ability to use our physical brain. Yet, often the mind holds back the brain because it gets stuck in certain patterns that it likes to repeat over and over, repeating so often that the pattern becomes a structure or habit we cannot break.

For example, you enter an elevator with Muzak playing one of those 70s songs from the Carpenters, like “I’m on the Top of the World” for a dozen bars, before you exit. The next thing you know that song is humming in your mind for the rest of the day. You didn’t choose to get hooked on that song; you just kind of fell into it with no conscious choice on your part.

Your mind was exposed to what in music is called “the hook.” A hook is a musical phrase that is structured in such a way, that as it begins to end, it throws itself back to the beginning, and begins all over again.

After hearing a dozen bars of “I’m on the Top of the World”, your mind is trying to resolve the unfinished bars, the ones you didn’t hear. That’s why you can’t get it out of your head, unless you consciously play the song, or sing the song, and finish it so that the tension is resolved, allowing your mind to move onto something else.

Similarly, our minds can get stuck with a belief, or attitude, or habit related to our work. If you hate your job, and want to quit or change careers, your mind will focus on that tension.

If a hook is constructed in your mind in the following manner: I hate my job but if I quit I will become poor, or lose my pension, or lose face with family and friends–then your mind will get stuck on that one track.

The hook is a fear of negative consequences. Your mind plays that tune over and over in your mind and all you can hear are the negative consequences that might result from quitting your job.

While your physical brain is ready, willing, and able to add new and better wiring, your mind wants to play the same old song: “I hate my job but I fear poverty.” This is the tape that plays over and over again in your mind.

The key is to give your mind different material to focus on. It’s the only way to break the endless loop. Most people don’t realize that their mind works as a simple tension-resolution system. It’s always looking for a tension to resolve.

That’s why we are susceptible to Muzak. Trapped in an elevator, most of us are exposed to the musical hook and we exit the elevator before our minds have time to resolve the tension.

If you give our mind junk food to work with, then the outcome will be junk: the “garbage in, garbage out” feedback loop.

The mind will work to resolve any tension that it considers. Be kind to your mind. Give it some stimulating tension to resolve. Whatever you focus on is what it will try to resolve.

Instead of focusing on negative consequences that might happen if you quit or lost your job, which plays like an endless loop in your mind—trust the fact, that your brain is wired to find a new and better structure for you.

Your brain is an awesome wonder. Give it good material to work with. Develop a vision of what you really want in terms of work. Then focus on that.

Think about your current reality; not the negative stuff that is holding you back but the stuff you already have that supports you attaining your vision, such as relevant experience, training, contacts, collateral, and so on.

In your mind, think of an elastic band and stretch it out. Now picture your current reality at one end of that elastic band, and the kind of work you want at the other end. Then let your mind do what it wants to do anyway, which is to resolve that tension.

This is the beginning of a successful career transition.

Of course, there are actions to take, strategies to employ, tactics to use, but now your mind is working with you instead of against you.