Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Does Your Job Increase Or Decrease Your Long-Term Happiness Potential?

Chapter 8: Secure Your Community Part 14 (Conclusion)

Community establishes hidden rules for behavior, and provides a set of rituals and customs to support these behavioral norms.  At work the rituals are things like regular all hands company meetings.  At home rituals may come from a formal community like a church, a family holiday tradition, or the informal get togethers with friends.

Many corporate cultures have an implicit company-first value system, which I have argued throughout the book promotes a modern form of idolatry. As I argued in Chapter 7, the first step to escape a life of Corporate Idolatry is to develop those parts of your identity that put people and not the company first.  However, the power of corporate culture can be so powerful that it takes a strong community outside of work to counter-balance it’s influence.

A relationship with a true community works in two directions; if you support the community it will support you in return.  A company relationship, on the other hand, is one way.  While a few companies like Southwest Airlines have a no layoff policy, this should not be taken as a lifelong commitment – there is nothing to prevent layoffs in the future. People who worked at IBM in the early 80s could not have envisioned the wide scale layoffs and loss of the generous pension plans in the early 90s.

I recommend a personal risk reduction strategy, to establish rituals that support a commitment to community outside the workplace.  The first of these rituals, which I will cover in the next chapter, is a Sabbath, a day without work.

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The Harvard Business Review Tip For The Overworked

Build Your Community: Part 12

The The Harvard Business Review tip of the day: People who are overloaded by work should “create rituals—highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, that become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline. For example, go[ing] to bed at the same time every night [ensures that] you consistently get enough sleep.”

As a baseball fan, I’m all over rituals. This year during the SF Giants World Series run, I listened to the first two playoff games (losses) on the radio, and then I watched next three (wins) on tv.  It was a bummer, because I was afraid to turn the radio on for the rest of the playoffs, lest The Giants start losing again.  Unfortunate, because Jon Miller and the other local radio announcers are so much better than the various clowns broadcasting on tv.  But what could I do?  I didn’t want The Giants to lose on my account.

My silly-but-true example illustrates something important about human behavior: much of what we do is driven by emotion, not reason.  And while my turning on the tv was not a ritual per say, rituals serve the same function: emotional comfort from the sameness of an activity.

Rituals are one of the ways that corporate culture is perpetuated. A primary example is the quarterly company meeting, when all employees gather to hear senior management go through a scorecard of performance, talk about what is coming up, and try to inspire employees for the future.  Employees at dysfunctional companies sometimes refer to these as “cool aid sessions” while companies like Google and now Yahoo use weekly all hands meetings as a way to build a culture of transparency and trust among employees.  (For more check out this interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations on

This tip from HBR is spot on, although I disagree with the overt suggestion to use rituals as a means to maintain a work-first mentality.

“Sebastian Tate,” who we met in Chapter 7 in this post, uses the ritual of the male-bonding camping trip to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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Four Ideas To Help You Get Your Life Back Starting Today

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 11

Over the last few posts, I have explained why it is dangerous to put all of your happiness eggs in the work basket: Lack of diversification is inherently risky.  Would you put all of your money in a single stock?  Any financial advisor would say you are crazy to do so.  Diversification is the key to a sound financial strategy.  The same holds true of your connections to other people.  Market forces beyond your control  can turn the most wonderful of workplaces into the stuff of nightmares.

If your time profile indicates the risk of corporate idolatry, I suggest that some life diversification is in order.  There is no need to say  “no” to the company – it will likely cause additional stress and may induce feelings of guilt.  Find something to say yes to, an activity that you decide is a higher priority than the company.  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Make a list of the things you liked to do when you were younger.  Is there anything you’d like to start again?

2. Join a class that a friend is taking.  At minimum you’ll get more time with the friend, and you might find something new that you really like.

3. If someone invites you to something, say yes!  (See this post on community opportunities.)

4. Put the new activity on the calendar – you will be far more likely to follow through if it is on the calendar.  One person told me her solution to a crazy time in the office was to sign up for 4 dance classes a week.  It gave her a “reason to get out of there.”

Sorry if you were expecting more earth-shattering ideas. It’s not complicated, just scary and hard to begin.  But once you start to connect with other people outside of work,  you will feel positive peer pressure to keep on connecting.

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Giorgio Struggles To Cope With Being Laid Off

Chapter 9: Build Your Community Part 10

I spoke to a former colleague of Giorgi’s who thought it was a “crock” that Giorgi was laid off.  “Sometimes your name just ends up on a list.”

Giorgi was devastated when he was laid off, and spent a few weeks catatonic on the couch.  “I did not see it coming.”  Many people called him telling him how wrong it was that he was let go.  But a few people he was really close with never called. “That really messed me up, not to hear from these people who I respected and I thought respected me.”  Years later he found out that his former boss told the team not to call Giorgi, because he was “so upset.”  It is hard to know why the boss did that.  Maybe he made a genuine mistake.  Maybe he was being self-serving.

Giorgio was well liked, and many people did call in spite of what his boss said.  One former report called every day, saying on the answering machine “I’m going to keep calling until you pick up the phone.”  Giorgi said it helped, but many of his friends from outside of work didn’t know what to say.  “The last think you want to hear is that you don’t have to go back to that place any more.”

Ten years later, Giorgio talks like someone who has come to grips with a great loss in his past.

I can relate, because if I had been laid off a year earlier I would have been in his shoes – utterly crushed.  I think one of the greatest benefits of “busting my corporate idol” was the mental freedom I found.

In my subsequent jobs, I never forgot that I could be let go at any time.

I realized that I would never invest all of my money in one asset, and should not invest too many of my personal connections in one place either.  It’s just too risky. So, I focused my “connection energy” on building a community outside of the workplace.

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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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