Today I start a new series of articles, on what I call “good jobs” – how we can create future jobs that make people feel fulfilled, happy, and expansive, rather than disengaged, unfulfilled, and/or depressed.
There is a danger, when I speak onstage about my life’s journey and particularly that pivotal obituary exercise, that I accidentally incite people to quit their jobs. They come up to me afterwards and whisper, “My god, when you described how you felt in your old job, that’s exactly how I feel now. And I know I want more. I’ve made up my mind to leave/seek redundancy/start my own business/cycle around the world.”
It used to cause me some consternation that my story could have such an impact on people, until I realised: a) that they must have already been unhappy in their jobs for a long time, and I could only ever have been the straw that broke the camel’s back (with apologies to all camels), and b) that generating this kind of response was going to cause me serious problems getting repeat business from their employers.
So I started thinking about how we could flip this around. Rather than changing the attitude of employees so that they quit, how could we change the attitude of employers so that their staff stay?
I was recently reading Why We Work (clue: it’s not for the money), a fascinating book by psychologist Barry Schwartz. He quotes a 2013 Gallup poll, which gathered information from 230,000 full-time and part-time workers in 142 countries.
“Overall, Gallup found that only 13 percent of workers feel engaged by their jobs. These people feel a sense of passion for their work and they spend their days helping to move their organizations forward. The vast majority of us, some 63 percent, are not engaged. We are checked out, sleepwalking through our days, putting little energy into our work. And the rest of us are actively disengaged, actually hating our jobs. In other words, work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment for nearly 90 percent of the world’s workers. Think of the social, emotional, and perhaps even economic waste that this statistic represents. Ninety percent of adults spend half their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be.”
This breaks my heart. What a tragic waste of human time, energy, and potential.
And it must frustrate employers too. Where is the fun in trying to goad, bribe, or otherwise coerce disenchanted employees to do their work? Wouldn’t it be far more effective if they could find a way to align individual objectives with corporate objectives so that staff are highly motivated to do their best, because what is best for their company is best for them too?
When I look back at my own clock-watching past, during most of the 11 years that I was a management consultant, I can imagine how my working life could have been so very different. I think I’ve proved in the years since I quit the City that I have not inconsiderable amounts of determination, creativity, initiative, resourcefulness, motivation, and commitment. But did any of my managers have any inkling that these qualities lay untapped within me? No. (Of course, neither did I. ) But what if they had been able to direct that huge reserve of energy toward a corporate goal? It could have been amazing! Sadly, we will never know. But of course it’s not all bad – if I’d have been just a bit better at my job I may never have left and ended up rowing oceans.
So how do employers take people like me, and unleash all that untapped potential? That is the question I will be exploring over the course of the next few weeks.
What about you? Do you love your job? If so, why? If not, why not? What would make it better?