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 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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Why Idolatry? For the Sex Of Course

Chapter 2: Idolatry Then & Now Part 11 

 In the previous post, I discussed idolatry by error.  Here is one of my favorite stories that illustrates idolatry by error.

“During the 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt, a young Israelite solder went to the marketplace of a newly conquered tribe of idol worshipers. He regularly went to see a beautiful girl with dark eyes who sold cloth from a tent in the market center.  At first he went for the low price, but after a few days he was invited in to sit and drink wine.  Flush with wine and conquest, the soldier pulled her close and murmured in her ear.  She pulled out an image of the idol Pe’or from her bodice and said to him “If you want me to do your bidding, bow down to this.”

He flung her back, eyes burning. ‘I will never bow to your trinket!’

She answered ‘What do you care if you only expose yourself to it?’ Since he had to disrobe anyway, what harm? As it turns out, exposing oneself was a way to worship Pe’or.  His face burned with shame, but the sex was beyond fantastic.”  – adopted from Babylonian Talmud[i]  I like this story because it illustrates the allure of idolatry, the gradual way it can creep up on you, and the not uncommon discovery that one has already committed idolatry without even knowing it.  And while giving reverence to a statue may not seem like a big deal today, in biblical times it was punishable by death.  Seem harsh?  Yes, but those were harsh times.  But even then, the death penalty was reserved for the most serious crimes.  And I think idolatry carried such a harsh penalty because it is so alluring.

And what is the problem with idolatry today?  For the religious of course, idolatry remains a mortal sin.  For the non-religious, I think of it this way.  Modern psychology is clear that lasting happiness comes from connections to other people and not from possessions.  A lifestyle of idolatry puts people second, and elevates the importance of something else which results in weaker interpersonal relationships, which in turn means less happiness.  So, for a happier life, put people first.

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[i] adopted from the Babylonian Talmud Sifrei on Numbers, sec 131;  Idolatry by Moshe Habertal and Avishai Margali.  Translated by Naomi Goldblum.  Harvard University Press p 24-25.