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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Why Time Management Is Not the Answer To Chronic Overwork

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 2

The first thing I tried to reduce my hours was a time management course taught by the American Management Association.  I was frantically busy and thought that by managing my time better, my issue would be solved.  It was a great class, and I learned two things.  I flew to New York City for the class, and was the only person with a high tech job.  But everyone in the class had the same personal story: my hobby used to be such and such, but I don’t have time for it anymore because of my job.  This was people in construction, high school yearbook sales and in the media.  My first lesson: it’s not just high tech or Silicon Valley with an overwork issue.  It’s everywhere.

The second thing I learned was to be more efficient.  Less procrastination, better goal setting, and better prioritization.  This class was good.  My life became better for a few months, but pretty soon I was just as busy.  It was a better planned busyness, but my life was once again out of control – all work and no play made Greg an out of shape and crabby boy.

Now, I understand why.  The overwork was a symptom, but was not the root cause.  The root cause was my corporate idolatry.  I had adopted and internalized a company-first value system.  The company was (unconsciously) the most important thing in my life.  So all of the time that I saved from greater efficiency was put back into the company.  Things started to change for me when I reconnected with people.  It came down to my values and priorities.

If you look at how you spend your time and make decisions, what are your priorities?  What is most important to you?

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How To Reconnect With Values and Regain Control Of Your Life

Change Thoughts by MMcDonough via Flickr CC

Introduction to Part III – From Worship to Work

I am really excited to be starting Part III of Busting Your Corporate Idol.  It’s time to write about solutions.  As a quick review

Part I: Corporate Idolatry Busted is about definitions.  I discovered my own corporate idolatry on Yom Kippur when I realized that the company and not my family was the most important thing in my life.  There can be only one top priority, and for me the company became my top priority.  It became my idol.

Part II: The Corporate Ladder Revisited examines the three factors that contribute to a lifestyle of idolatry: people, circumstances, and the overall company culture.  I’ve shared the stories of people like Mary, Pat, and Harry to illustrate these dynamics in action.

Part III draws on one of my favorite books, Switch: How To Change When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.  In one sense, change is always hard.  Newton’s First Law says “an object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon an unbalanced force.”  So any change is going to require some work.  But “hard” is relative.  As Malcolm Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point, sometimes very small changes can have very large impacts.

Planets move according to laws of the universe, but people have free will.  We can choose our own path.  If you’ve gotten this far in the book, you are looking to make a change.  And if you are still reading, I’d like to think that you’ve started to see the world in a new way.

I went from working 90 hours a week to 60 hours a week in less than a year, without changing jobs and with no discernable impact on my career.  But my life got soooo much better, and it has continued to get better every year since.

Yours will too.

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What If Successfully Managing Workplace Politics Doesn’t Bring Balance?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 18 (Conclusion)

This chapter I’ve shared stories that illustrate how the people at work can contribution to corporate idolatry.  But as the following story illustrates, even the best of people, working for the most admirable of Wolves, are subject to strong influence from both circumstances and the workplace culture.

One senior product manager we’ll call “Jill” had a Fox manager who pushed and pushed in private to get the product out, and then publically pointed the finger at her when disaster struck.  According to Jill, after leading the team for a year “it felt crappy to sit in the room, and watch everyone look to my boss to find a solution.  They acted like I wasn’t there.  But later in the meeting there came this moment when my manager gave me a look that seemed to say ‘what do I do next?’  I looked him in the eye, and although I knew exactly what needed to be done, I said nothing.” And the outcome?  The Fox manager was soon moved to a backwater of the company, while Jill delivered a solution and recovered her reputation.

After that time, Jill was able to manage the politics much more effectively, and while the environment wasn’t exactly supportive, it wasn’t hostile either.  But the story does not end there, because Jill was still in a very poor situation.

Jill’s competition released a product that the customers liked better, and her marketing programs and sales pep talks were not going to change that.  Circumstances were beyond Jill’s control, but she pushed herself to the edge of ruin in a futile effort to regain market leadership.

Jill believed that her heroic efforts could result in a major change in the marketplace.  Psychologists call this the “Illusion of Control.”  I call it another face of idolatry.

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How To Identify When You Are Too Devoted To Work

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 13

The last post describes first part of the Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values & Regain Control Of Your Life, which introduces the concept of Corporate Idolatry, and reviews the nature of both idolatry and corporations.  The middle part of the book, “The Corporate Ladder Revisited” tells stories from life in the corporate world, and examines three factors that contribute to a life of Corporate Idolatry.  According to the business ethics literature, unethical behavior at work can be because of unethical people, challenging circumstances, or an unethical corporate culture.  The same three factors lead the adoption of a company-first value system. Proper understanding of the interplay among people, circumstances, and corporate culture is essential in order to identify the causes of Corporate Idolatry, and then to set appropriate boundaries around your life.

Chapter 4 introduces Scorpions, Foxes, and Wolves, three types of people you must be able to identify if you are to know who to trust in the workplace.  The animal names come from the Aesop’s fable The Scorpion and the Frog, and from the parable the Fox and the Wolf.

“The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…” from

And if you think everything at work depends on you, Chapter 5 will burst your bubble.  Psychologists call it “The Illusion of Control,” and it can manifest in the workplace as a special kind of idolatry.  Chapter 6 tackles company culture, which like all cultures uses things like rules, traditions, myths, and rituals to perpetuate itself.

Here is a story from a company that ships radiolabeled isotopes for medical tests.  “Something went wrong with the reactor and the people on the night shift had to run in to the reactor to get [the isotype in order to make the shipment deadline.] They got 10 times the dose they legally should have.  It wasn’t driven by commercial gain.  It was driven by “oh we’ve go to do a good job.”

What are the stories from your company?

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