Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Ray Rice: Defective NFL Product?

Janay Palmer & Ray Rice

Now wife, Janay Palmer and Raven’s suspended footlball player, Ray Rice

I’m on my home from the latest workshop by my coach Steve Harrison. Had a chance to meet Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Wow, what an amazing experience.

It was an interesting experience learning how better to serve people through writing and coaching against the backdrop of the Ray Rice story. My understanding is that abusive people were themselves abused. It is my hope that this incident can help Mr. Rice break the cycle of abuse, both for himself and for others.

I watched the video. It was very disturbing. If you haven’t seen it, I think you should watch it Ray Rice Knocked Out Fiancee – FULL VIDEO. It will change your understanding of domestic violence forever. It won’t be theoretical, and it won’t be Hollywood. It is brutal. Watching the video could help you change someone’s life some day. You might hear a whisper, or notice something in someone you know, and instead of brushing it off, you’ll remember that image of Jinay getting knocked unconscious.

As for why the NFL and the Ravens gave Rice a slap on the wrist before the video came to light? I am befuddled by the handwringing. The NFL is a business. Ray Rice is the product. The domestic violence wasn’t seen as a human issue, it was a business issue.  Rice was a product with some characteristics that would make some customers mad.

I’ve been in those discussions. The product isn’t working quite right. Should we ship?

“No product is ever done.”

“There is a work around.”

“We need the revenue now, and will pick up the pieces later.”

Right or wrong does not come into play when it comes to these product shipment decisions. They are business decisions. In the case of the NFL, the products are people. We need to remember to put people first, always.

As I write this post on the plane, I watched an inspirational speech from James Brown, football host on CBS. Brown explained that domestic violence is not a football issue, and is not a woman’s issue. He pointed out that 3 women die every day from domestic violence, and called on men to step up and take responsibility. “You need to either get help [for yourself] or give help [to end domestic violence.]

Bravo James Brown. Real men do not hurt women, and we’ll take your challenge to become part of the solution.

Why Your Identity Matters To Work-Life Balance

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 13

In the last post, “Janet Wolf” described how her identity was wrapped up in the company, and how a layoff allowed her to realize that “she was above all that.”  What does it mean to have an identity wrapped up in the company?

Stanford Business School professor James G. March describes identity as an expected set of behaviors that apply in certain social situations. Put another way, identity is an automatic pilot that guides behavior without the need to stop and think what to do in a given situation.  An identity is reinforced by the social context, that rewards “behavior consistent with the definition of the identity and penalizing behavior inconsistent with behavior.”[i]

For example, a parent identity is reinforced by parenting-related activities, such as the appreciative smile that comes from going to the soccer game.  An identity that comes from the company is reinforced daily by the interactions, both positive and negative, that happen at work.  Some companies, like Google, go to great lengths to strengthen the identity of employees from the time of hire. (See this post on Nooglers.)

As I wrote earlier in the chapter, we all have multiple identities that apply in different situations.  Corporate idolatry arises when the company-first identity becomes dominant.  In the year I went from working 90 hours a week to 60 hours a week, I was in a virtuous cycle – the more time I spent at home, the more my parent/husband/friend identities became stronger, which in turn made it easier to work even less.

For Janet, her change in identity was catalyzed by a change in environment.  It was only when she was out of the workplace that she her non-work identity re-asserted itself.  In the next post, I will explore this dynamic further, and will return to the story of Abraham that was started in Chapter 2.

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[i] Primer on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen by James G. March Free Press. (1994) p 64-65

Remember the One Thing You Can Control At Work In Any Circumstance

Chapter 5: The Role of Circumstance Part 16, Conclusion

As a technical writer, Mary’s life changed dramatically for the better.  She started working normal hours, and was recognized and appreciated for her work.  Interestingly, it took her about three months to accept the new lifestyle.  “I kept asking myself when is it going to get crazy again.” Now she wishes she had made the move earlier.  “I just feel like I suffered for longer than I needed to [in my previous position].  This year has been a recovery year.  I haven’t felt guilty about the number of hours I work.  If I leave at 3 to work out and get the kids, I don’t feel guilty about it.  I was getting my work done, and was still moving the position forward.”

It sounds like more than just moving forward – Mary was recognized and complemented by the General Manager at the summer picnic, something that never would have happened in her previous position.  Moreover, Mary is still connected to the high profile project, which allows her to leverage her previous experience and contacts.

At the start of this chapter, I wrote about the illusion of control, and how it applies in the workplace.  There is so much that happens which is beyond our control, but as humans we are naturally susceptible to the illusion that we can control far more than we actually do.  And the consequence for these illusions, as Mary’s story illustrates, is unnecessary suffering.  To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, we cannot control what happens to us, we can only choose how we respond.

In the next chapter, we’ll cover the biggest thing we cannot control – the overall company culture.

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Mary Prioritizes Family Over Work But Work Over Sleep

Chapter 5: The Role Of Circumstance Part 15

In the last few posts, we have been following the story of Mary as she was overwhelmed with work coming back from maternity leave.  Even though Mary worked till midnight on email, she felt guilty about leaving the office at five, in part because many decisions were made after hours when she was no longer in the office.

Mary had the option of staying later every night.  Her husband was unemployed and could have assumed all childcare duties.  As it was, he shouldered most of them.  “If I would have stayed at work consistently most nights till 7, I would have been able to build those relationships with R&D that you need, so they have your back.  I saw it happening, but I just couldn’t [stay].”   Mary’s top priority was the family.  She left every day at 5 to make sure she could eat with the kids and put them to bed.  “I thought I could make it work.  The baby goes to sleep at eight, and I would work till midnight.  I kept getting further and further behind, and relationships kept suffering.  If I had any free time I was trying to catch up on some project.”

While it is likely that staying until seven every night may have eased the work-related guilt and facilitated the relationships with R&D, I doubt it would have changed Mary’s overall level of happiness or health. In fact, Mary would have had little time to see her family, which would have engendered guilt of another kind.  To her credit, Mary continued to put her family first, in that she went home to be with them.  At the same time, she was prioritizing the company over her health, which was not sustainable.

Things finally came to a head when Mary tearfully told her boss that enough was enough – “I said if that is really what you want me to do, I am not sure I’m the right person for that job.   At the time you don’t expect you were going to say those words, and when you walk out you say ‘shit, I’m basically getting myself fired.’  In another way you feel good that you finally stood up for yourself.”  To his credit, Mary’s boss found her another position in the organization, one that was protected from an upcoming round of layoffs.

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Back From Maternity Leave, Mary Is Undermined By Subordinates

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance Part 13

In the previous part of the chapter, we looked at Mary’s experience as a newbie out of grad school.  Like many people in their first corporate experience, she got totally caught up in the company mission, and as  result spent many hours working at the expense of her personal life.

Fast forward ten years. Mary was several companies down the road, and did not love, or even like, her company.  Yet she found herself once again overly devoted.

Mary has grown in seniority, and is managing an experienced team.  However, she had not yet made director, which is troubling and painful to her.  As was usually the case, Mary was working on the most high profile and high pressure project in the company.  This was no start up, but rather one of the largest in the life sciences research industry.  Once again, the product was billed as (and in fact was) a game changer in the world of cancer detection.

Challenges presented themselves right away as she came back after four months at home with the baby.  The senior managers she was managing had been reporting directly to the director in her absence, and they resented and resisted being pushed back down a level in the hierarchy.  What was particularly challenging was a culture of after-hours discussions and meetings, where decisions were often made when she wasn’t present, by either her reports or her manager who did not share her level of expertise.  “Decisions could be made where you wouldn’t know [the impact] for a few months.  You could really dig yourself in [such that customers would be livid].”

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