This is the third in a series of articles on the theme of “good jobs”.

This week I’d like to take the employers and managers out of the hotseat, and suggest that each one of us has the power to make our job a good job.

No matter who we are – CEO, cubicle dweller, freelance, entrepreneur, or whatever – how do we find a way to continue our personal development at work, so that the hours that we spend in gainful employment bring us not just money, but happiness and fulfilment too?

Work Life Balance signpost
Never the twain shall meet?

One of the bees buzzing in my bonnet at the moment is the phrase “work/life balance”. When I started to really think about it, I found I didn’t at all like the implication that work and life are two separate things that need to be balanced against each other. What does that imply – that life stops when we reach our place of work?

“Work/family balance” I can understand, as the vast majority of workers have to sacrifice family time in order to work (or I suppose, for workaholics, sacrifice work time in order to be with their family). Given finite hours in the day, more of one means less of the other.

But why should work have to be balanced against life? Can’t work be an exciting and enhancing part of life, and our personal goals be met at our work as well as outside it?

I doubt that any job is 100% perfect – even entrepreneurs, who mostly get to write their own job description, will have to spend some time doing stuff they don’t like. (If anybody loves doing accounts, please contact me, because I can’t stand doing mine!) But when the grunt work is in service of a higher goal, it becomes acceptable. It serves a purpose.

Two hoots (groan)
Two hoots (groan)

But if all we do is grunt work, and either we don’t know what the higher goal is, or it’s a higher goal that we don’t give two hoots about, it becomes soul-sapping. That is when we start talking about work/life balance, in the hope that what work takes out of us, the rest of our life can put back into us. But in my experience this theory doesn’t work so well. I found that spending 40+ hours a week doing something draining created a deficit too great to be restored in the evenings and weekends.

A dream job should be positively life-enhancing, giving us opportunities to meet our very human desires for growth, mastery, connection, contribution, autonomy and accomplishment. It should build us up instead of wear us down.

But what of the jobs that nobody would choose to do?

I remember once, quite a few years ago now, stopping at a motorway service station somewhere in England. Mostly it was completely unexceptional – the usual fast food outlets, games arcade, plastic tables and chairs. But the ladies’ loo (and who knows, maybe the gents’ too) was a haven. The room was spotlessly clean, there were vases of fresh flowers, bottles of scent, and a framed certificate saying it had won the Loveliest Loo Award (or some such thing) for that year.

If someone can take such pride in their job cleaning a service station toilet, what job can’t be done with joy? I’d like to suggest that it’s not what we do but the way that we do it that gives us opportunities to make the world a better place, no matter how humble our job title may be.

 

Have you witnessed someone doing a humble job with joy? Or do you? What do you think about work/life balance? Work/family balance? Please post a comment and let me know!

 

 

8 Comments

  • I remember when we were at General Magic developing a handheld device (like a primitive black and white iPod) that Marc Porat, CEO, who has a PhD in Communication from Stanford used to talk about Whole Person Thinking. This means that at work people often think about home and vice versa. I think it depends on the job as to whether work and life are separate. I worked in a supermarket and stationery factory before going to university and there was a clear separation between work and leisure. One never took one’s work home, which could be considered a perk of the job. Also one can influence the work environment by being positive and having fun, yet most in such jobs live for the life not at work – and that’s OK for some people. In that case, labour laws mandated maximum working hours and length of break times, to ensure people had work/life balance. Jamis who owns buckswoodside.com is a master at making life interesting – this could be just another restaurant selling breakfast, lunch and dinner – but he has turned it into a meeting point and “museum” – crafting his menu into a news sheet.

  • Love the post, Roz! My favorite part: “A dream job should be positively life-enhancing, giving us opportunities to meet our very human desires for growth, mastery, connection, contribution, autonomy and accomplishment. It should build us up instead of wear us down.” And it’s also true that, with the right attitude, we can make our current job our dream job. Thank you!

    • I definitely noted that same passage as well. I recently changed locations ( same job) due to micro managers who limited growth, mastery, contribution and autonomy.

      In a management development course I attended we chanted the mantra: ” people don’t quit bad jobs, they quit bad bosses.”

      General Patton must have read Nelson’s book before he said -” don’t tell your men how to do things, tell them what to do, and let them surprise you with their ingenuity.”

  • Most striking for me was the way you demonstrated that a person who did that humble job changed your life in some measure for the better with a visit to their loo.

    I’ll be thinking of that today…

    Work and family…balance?

    A team approach… The family needs to share support- and that becomes about supporting work at times.

    Vacation is huge too- getting off of the daily grind as a group.

    Individuals need downtime as well. You can’t give of yourself unless you have a self to give.

    Back to the grind…

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