Friday, September 10, 2004

Sick of Work

I asked a programmer once what his interests were outside of work. He looked at me like I was completely crazy. He had no other interests and spent nearly all of his waking hours at work. In his case, I think he's genuinely happy to have his life be that way. I'm not so sure it works as well for the rest of us.

During the tech boom, employees were happy devoting their lives to the cause of the corporation because there was something in it for them - the promise that if they worked hard enough and hung in there long enough for their options to vest, they'd be rich. Many did become millionaires (at least on paper), though most did not.

These days, hardly anyone expects to suddenly come into the big bucks simply by donating every waking hour to work, especially when the question for many is not how much their options will be worth when they're vested but rather, whether they'll have a chance to vest at all before more layoffs hit.

Some may think this is a particularly pessimistic view. I choose to think of it as an opportunity.

When the financial prospects were huge, the promise of money for many people drowned out every other thought about what else might be important. Now it's easier - and even more crucial - to pay attention to the other priorities in our lives because it's clearer that the money will never be enough to make up for what we lose by not pursuing what's most important to us.

As managers, it makes sense to promote that way of thinking because guess what - it costs an organization money to have employees who are stressed out. Stressed employees use employee assistance programs more and get sick more often. Taking the productivity hit and paying for health care, plus making other employees more stressed when they have to take up the slack, all come at a price. And don't think that firing all the stressed out folks will make the problem go away.

If you're a manager, you can help your company's bottom line by doing everything in your power to make or keep your organization a reasonable place to work. Sure, you have work that needs doing. Understand that forcefeeding to your staff isn't necessarily the most expedient or cost-effective way of getting it done. Make it possible for employees to set personal boundaries that work for themselves as well as for the company. Set a good example yourself by establishing your own healthy work/life balance.

If you're an employee, make it your own responsiblity to keep yourself healthy while doing the work that's expected of you. Manage up if necessary, to help this happen in a positive way; sometimes the person you report to simply doesn't understand all of the ramifications of a particular request. And if the company culture is so toxic that this isn't possible, go somewhere else and let somebody new be their cannon fodder.

Yeah, I realize all too well this is easier said than done. Frankly, figuring out the how of it & actually getting it done is part of what keeps me in business.

What workplace issues do you face and how are you addressing them? Send your thoughts to - if you have new ideas, I'm interested in hearing your approach; if you're fresh out, maybe we can brainstorm together.

Pretending a problem doesn't exist doesn't make it any less real.