Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Merry Christmas Giorgi: Your Name Is On The List

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 9

The last post ended with the no layoff policy at Southwest Airlines. For the vast majority of companies however, layoffs are a reality.  I’ve been through multiple layoffs in my career, although only once was I let go. (As I’ve written previously, I was thrilled when it happened.)  Being of the survivors was much harder.  I felt like one of the walking dead, wandering the halls morning those who were no longer there.

The personal connections at work often feel like friendships, and sometimes they are.  But sometimes they aren’t.

“Giorgio Danza” learned that lesson the hard way.  Giorgio moved to San Francisco after college because the city was friendly to his lifestyle.  Giorgi has a hearty laugh that matches the intensity of his personality.  Think Polo, panache and perfect.  His hair is dark brown, short, and perfect.  And his sunglasses  are amazing, and never the same.

Giorgi worked for the same company eighteen years after college, ten as a laboratory technician, and then eight in product management.  I asked him if the company felt like his community.

“Oh God yes, absolutely.  I prided myself on having great relationships with people, from shipping to manufacturing.   I think people saw me as very knowledgeable, experienced, knew how company worked, how to get things done.  I stepped in [to the company] as a kid, literally as a child, and didn’t learn stuff about politics that maybe I would have learned better if I had life experience outside of the company. ”

I asked Giorgi about the layoff.  “It was devastating.  I did not see it coming.”

Giorgi’s story continues in the next post.

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The Connection Between Community, Work, and Happiness

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 8

I define a community as a group of people with a common interest who look out for each other.  In his book “Bowling Alone,” Harvard Professor Robert Putnam rigorously documents the decline of community in America. Putnam points to decreasing membership in organizations like the PTA and Shriners, as well as a decrease in the frequency of informal get-togethers like Sunday picnics.

Why is this important? Current research suggests that one of the most important drivers of happiness is community.  (See here for a summary of recent happiness research).   Humans are inherently social creatures; we like to belong and like to interact with other people.  And with less community, there are less opportunities to connect, and therefore less opportunities to generate happiness.

The workplace can look and feel a lot like a community.  We spend most of our waking hours at work.  A good leader will try to pull employees together towards a common purpose, and create a sense of esprit de corps.  And just as a community takes care of it’s members, many companies provide extensive lifestyle benefits to employees, such as on site medical, dental, dry cleaning, and of course the grand daddy of them all, the on-site gym.

Southwest Airlines has made its culture and community a competitive advantage, creating funds to allow employees to help other employees deal with natural disasters, and “culture committees” to plan parties around lifestyle events. (See SWA website.)   Of course Southwest Airlines has something that most other companies don’t – a no layoff policy.

In the next post, I’ll explore whether layoffs disqualify the workplace as a true community.

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Would You Ever Consider Leaving Work Early If You Are a Leader or Key Stakeholder?

Chapter 8: Secure Your Community Part 7

In the last post, I have tips on how to leave work early if chronically overworked.   I shared the post on the HRB site on LinkedIn, and the response has been explosive. The 58+ comments  run the spectrum which I summarize as

  • A good leader creates an environment where things can run smoothly even when they aren’t there
  • As long as you are reachable by phone, it’s ok.
  • Don’t leave too often or other people will start leaving early too.
  • “Leave whenever you got to as long as work is being done or is getting done per expectation & standards”
  • It is more about the mental connection to work than whether you are physically at the office or not
  • Some people didn’t feel they had the freedom to leave early even if they wanted to.

I think there are two issues to consider when deciding whether you can leave the office early:

1. Can you leave without the organization falling apart?

The answer to this needs to be yes.  If it is no, either the organization is not well led, or does not have the right people.  What could happen in your absence?  Will it impact the revenue number?  Will it hurt customers?  Will it send anyone to jail, or create a flag for auditors?  Unless the answer is yes, don’t even worry about it.

2. Can your ego survive if the organization doesn’t fall apart in your absence?

I hate to admit it, but one upon a time, for me the answer would have been no.  (And if I’d been laid off when that was true, I would have been devastated.)  If you’ve read Chapter 7, Secure Your Identity, you are already thinking about this issue.  Many people (including me) suffer from the Illusion of Control, a belief that we have a much bigger impact on the outcome than we actually do.  And when there is trouble in other parts of our life, work can serve as a refuge.  (See posts here and here for more.)

Which is more important to you, the work or the people you are with?

Let’s say you have left the office for an hour to have lunch with a friend or to coach soccer for a child.  The phone rings.  Let’s assume that the reason for the call is “legitimate” and that you will “add value” to the business by answering it.  Should you take the call or call back when you are finished with lunch/practice?  At least for me, once I got a work call or email there was no turning off the thoughts.  And then I was no longer present for the people around me.

Imagine you are with someone at lunch, their phone rings, they peak at the caller id and say “it’s my boss and it’s the end of the quarter, but you are more important to me.”  They turn off the phone and put it away.

How would you feel being that person?   What are the long term benefits for you of making other people feel that way?

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How To Leave Work Early When Chronically Overworked

Build Your Community Part 6

In his book Happy, Ian K. Smith argues that happy people have more close relationships, the kind of friendships that take time to build and maintain. According to Smith, (who is quoting the research of Martin Seligman and others) “a strong social network is also associated with lower levels of stress and a longer life span.”[i]

For many in the corporate world, (including myself at one time) corporate idolatry makes close friendships outside of work hard to find.  This is the position Sue found herself in, when she worked herself until she was sick. (See this post in Chapter 6)

Smith advises that someone without a network of friends should “put themselves in a position to meet new people.”  Interestingly, this is exactly how Sue told me she started to get healthy again.

Sue told me her decision to make a change came on a business trip.   Free from the daily meetings that started at 7 AM and often went until 6, she realized that her life did not have time for anything else, and she needed “to go out and get a breath of fresh air.”  Sue developed a deliberate strategy to connect with other people.

She said, “I’m not a runner or biker and I needed something to do that I really enjoyed.  I like to learn, but I didn’t want to go back to school. I wanted to find something that would challenge me in a way that wasn’t drowning like work.  I started photography, I like food, and I love gardening.  I started getting involved in my community which is important to me, e.g. a committee to get a new park in town, which connected me to some other committees and projects.”

But it was Urban Farming  that really caught her passion.  “I change out of my skirt and Santana-Row shoes on Friday afternoon and go.  There is one woman who I hang out with.  We have become really close friends and I would never have met her in the tech industry.”
One advantage to leaving work early for a fun activity – the other people there also have made connecting with other people a higher priority than their company.  Those are just the people to hang out with.
You might also like: Discover How I Avoided Burnout

[i] Happy: Simple Steps To Get the Most Out Of Life by Ian K. Smith.  St Martin’s press.  (2010) p 190

Beware The Illusion Of Community At Work

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 5

Remember Sue from Chapter 6, the successful VP who was secretly throwing up every morning, crying and not wanting to go to work?  Of course it didn’t start that way.

“When I was more junior, [it] felt  like we were going somewhere.  There was financial success, bonuses, and I moved up quickly. I appreciated being recognized.  It was an absolute pleasure.  The team stuck together four years and we liked each other.  Many nights we’d go to the gym, come back and stay till 10.  We were willing to do that it was fun.”

In many ways, what Sue is describing is a community – people you like to be with who provide support and conquer obstacles together.  When I asked her if it felt like community, Sue agreed.   “I loved the company.  Marketing got along with development and sales, and it felt like you were a part of something.  The day in day out conversations were positive.  Everyone was working towards the same goal.  It was fun.”

When the company started having trouble maintaining the high growth rate, things got ugly.  “There was this one person,  I thought it was friendship but she didn’t hesitate to stab me in the back without a second thought.”  And that was not an isolated case.  Sales, marketing, and development, departments that had worked so well together were now caught in a cycle of very personal and destructive political attacks.  And then the layoffs began.

I think it was this sense of community that drove Sue to stick  with it, to try to “be the one to bring it back.”  And that effort made her very sick.

A company isn’t a real community, it just provides a community-like experience.  You can never be kicked out of a real community, but a company can and should get rid of anyone if business conditions warrant it.

In the next post, Sue searches community outside of the workplace.

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