Do Looks Matter for Success? When it comes to my book, I think they do.
- Greeting everyone you meet before they greet you.
- Holding doors for others
- Smiling at everyone you pass
I can’t tell you how many people told me to drop corporate idolatry from my book title.
“People don’t want to hear about religion at work.” Or “Idolatry is a mortal sin, and I’m offended that you associate my hard work with idolatry.”
The most common objection is this: “Idola-what? I can’t pronounce it.” As a ten-year marketer, you’d think that I’d jump to modify the message in response to this feedback. Except isn’t that what Coke did when they developed New Coke in the 80s?
Coke’s rival Pepsi had a famous advertising campaign, the Pepsi challenge. It was a blind taste test, and people overwhelmingly picked Pepsi over Coke. The Coke executives panicked, and developed New Coke, a sweet soda like Pepsi. It was a disaster. Everyone hated new coke. It turns out that in a one swallow test, Pepsi wins. But if you ask people to drink an entire glass, Coke wins. Oops. You need to be careful on how you interpret the data, and not to put too much weight on only one data point.
In the case of corporate idolatry, when I explain to people that corporate idolatry is a metaphor for overwork, heads start to nod. When I explain in detail, as I will below, people either smile or scowl. It is not unusual for arguments to break out, or for a discussion to go on for thirty minutes. Along the way, we’ve covered issues like missing family events for work, or the fear of a backlash if you say “no” to the bosses’ last minute request. An idea that sparks a deep discussion about priorities and values, by people who normally don’t think about these issues, is something to hold on to.
An idea that sparks a deep discussion about priorities and values, by people who normally don’t think about these issues, is something to hold on to.
Have you ever heard a phrase like “you need to do what is best for the company?” Let me guess, it wasn’t in the context of giving a promotion, planning an office party, or giving everyone a week of extra vacation. We use the phrase “best for the company” to justify an action that is unpopular, like canceling a project, or a decision that is perhaps unethical, like shipping a product that you know will not meet customers needs.
Doing what is “best for the company” is not the same as doing “what is best.” Every time we say yes to a company request that results in long hours is a no to someone else in our life. I know for what I speak, for there was a time when I was working 90 hours a week, and I thought that I was a family first person. It was a sobering moment when I realized that you cannot be family first AND work 90 hours a week. For example, when my cell phone rang during dinner, I told my family I had an important call and left the table.
Doing what is “best for the company” is not the same as doing “what is best.”
Which brings me to the real reason why people don’t like the phrase corporate idolatry—it hits too close to home. It is far easier to complain about how hard we are working. It allows us to play the victim:
This last point illustrates the most insidious thing about corporate idolatry is that it warps the way we see the world. We agree with the company’s definition of what is important, and we buy into illusions that are no more real than the belief that sacrificing a goat to a statue could make it rain.
The real reason why people don’t like the phrase corporate idolatry—it hits too close to home.
To accept corporate idolatry means that we are no longer the victim, but an agent making choices. I am choosing to answer the email that comes in at 10 PM. I am choosing to take the phone call during dinner. I am choosing to eat lunch at my desk instead of leaving the office and meeting a friend for lunch. I am choosing to be at the regional sales meeting in Europe instead of at home for my kid’s birthday.
Yes, recognizing corporate idolatry can be painful initially. But it also provides the path to a more balanced life. It opens the space to start putting people first. We choose not to answer the phone, or to accept the lunch invitation from a friend, even when a large deliverable is due the next day.
Just don’t tell your boss that the company is no longer the most important thing in your life. Instead, use your political skills to defer, delegate, or de-scope deliverable requests. No point getting burned at the stake just to make a point.
This post originally appeared on the blog Switch & Shift
I have an issue with work/life balance. By putting work & life on the same line, it implies an equivalency between the two. And by putting work first, it provides a pecking order.
Work and life are not equals to be balanced or prioritized: Work is a part of life, a subset. The real issue is how to balance the different facets of life.
As I wrote in Busting Your Corporate Idol, life has three arenas: sleep, work, and everything else. A Balanced Life requires attention to each arena. 60, 80, 90 hour work weeks encroach on other arenas.
So much of the work/life balance field is focused on flexibility. But what about the person who has flexibility and chooses/feels compelled to work 60+ hours. Is this person happy? Maybe Is his or her life balanced? Doubtful. Freedom to pick your own 90 hours isn’t really a help. It may feel good for a time if you love your job to work all the time, but it isn’t balance, and it isn’t sustainable. (I know, because that was me.)
What I needed, and what many people need, is to work fewer hours. In my last post, I quoted an executive who said to Cali Williams Yost
Every time you say work-life balance all I hear is work less, and we have so much to do. I need everyone to do more. Plus, I don’t have any kind of work/life balance myself. How can I support something I don’t have?
I find it sad that the executive felt that he could not have life balance; he wasn’t even trying. He just assumed that he needed to make sacrifices for the company. (Which regular readers will recognize as corporate idolatry.) It doesn’t have to be that way. This executive had flexibility, and after talking to Yost, agreed to allow his employees more flexibility. But he was still overworked, and so were they!
So it’s time to call a spade a spade. We are overworked, and in order to achieve Life Balance we need to choose to work less. Yes, it is our choice. It does no good to blame the company, the economy, or globalization. No one will tell you to work fewer hours. You need to take back that time for yourself. You might be surprised to know how many managers have told me that they see their employees working too much. They won’t life a finger to stop it, but would comply with a request for less work in an instant.
Balance is not stationary. Life Balance is someone riding a unicycle while with a bunch of bowls on her head, with sticks in her hands, each holding up a ball. She is constantly moving. Life Balance is the same way. We are always moving and adjusting. Your Life Balance will look very different from my Life Balance. Of course they will, because we are different people.
I think that until we give up on the misdirected goal of work/life balance, we cannot achieve what we really want, a balanced, healthy, and meaningful life.
What do you think is the best phrase? Life Balance, work/life balance, or work+life fit?
Thank you Patricia Kempthorne, Founder/CEO of The Twiga Foundation, for your helpful feedback on the concept of Life Balance
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In this season of Passover and Easter, I’ve been thinking about work.
The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, which is a ritual meal that tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt. In many ways, Passover is like Thanksgiving, in that family gets together, and remembers a historical event. What is particular about Passover is the detail in which the story is told, how Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Participants in the Seder are exhorted to make a personal connection to those freed from slavery. There is a lot to connect to. This year I connected to my own experience of going from a 90 to a 60 hour work week.
The Exodus from Egypt is a seminal event in the history of the world, remembered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims who together account for over half the world’s population*. The Exodus, although less salient for the worlds 1.3 billion Atheists, has been highly influential on the secular world as well. Harriet Tubman, hero of the Underground Railroad was nicknamed Moses. So imagine my surprise when I found that a sizable portion of the Israelites wanted to return to slavery in Egypt. Why? Why after generations of slavery, when finally offered the chance at freedom, would anyone want to return to slavery?
The voices to return to slavery were particularly acute at times of uncertainty, when the Hebrews were trapped against the shores of the
Red Sea, or when Moses was absent for forty days and the people began to doubt whether he would return. There were two types of people who argued for a return to Egypt. The first were self-serving people like Dathan, who collaborated with the Egyptians and betrayed Moses to Pharaoh for personal gain. When later exiled by Pharaoh with the rest of the Jews, Dathan continued to advocate for a return to Egypt, presumably so he could regain his wealth and privileges. (Dathan was played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie The Ten Commandments.)
Most people who wanted to return to Egypt were not self-serving, but simply afraid of change and/or the uncertainty of the road ahead. The Dathans of the world prey on the fears and insecurities of other people. Dathan argued that servitude in Egypt would be better than death in the desert. I can’t help but notice the way that Dathan positioned slavery as mere servitude. I am reminded of the way some of my former managers would spin things to encourage me to work over the weekend.
Over the course of one year, I went from working 90 hours per week to working 60 hours per week. My job title never changed, but my boss did – seven times that year. Not one of my seven managers said “Greg, you are working too hard. Let me take this off your plate.” I needed to liberate myself in the midst of a chaotic and highly political environment. The details of that year are a story for another day, but what was key was a revelation that my devotion to the company was a modern form of idolatry. I realized that “doing what is best for the company” was an adoption of a company-first value system, and this Corporate Idolatry was at the expense of my family and my personal health. By reconnecting with people-first values, I was able to drastically cut back my working hours.
Idolatry was very much a part of the story of Exodus. Not only were the Hebrews enslaved, they worshipped the Egyptian gods. The story of Passover makes it clear that the Hebrews were not freed from slavery until they cried out to the one God for freedom. On a metaphorical level, Passover is the story of people who chose an uncertain future that carried the promise of freedom over the known path of slavery.
I made as much money working 60 hours as I did working 90 hours. In a sense, I was working those extra forty hours for free. I obsess about those 30 hours, in part because I think working for free is a form of slavery. Why did I do it for so many years? But that too is a post for another day. Today, I am thankful that I am free.
*For more information on the number of people in different religions, check out The Big Religion Chart, which lists the world Jewish population at 14 million, Christians at 2 billion, Muslims at 1.3 billion and Atheists at 1.1 billion.