Love & Work - The (Not So) Odd Couple
This month we celebrate the Patron Saint of Love – St. Valentine. Why limit the celebration to just our personal relationships? Most of us spend more waking hours on the job than we do with our family. If you are struggling to love your work, Career Cupid offers this advice...
1. Make a choice to fall in love (or fall in love again) with your work.
Remember the initial intoxicating and euphoric feelings of love? As amazing as those feelings are, experience teaches us that they come and go. Ask any couple that’s been together for 20 years or more, and they’ll tell you that authentic love is a choice. You choose to be in love, stay in love, and sometimes fall in love again. As we move beyond the fictitious notion that humans are perfect, we start to see the world as it is. Broken, yet beautiful. Our jobs and workplace are really no different. Until such time as the Artificial Intelligence world takes over, like it or not, humans are at the core of any job. And we know, when humans are brought into the equation – there are always complicated dynamics at play.
In your work life, consider making the choice to love your job. Without a doubt, there will be people and aspects about your job that just won’t give you the “first date fever” – that’s why you get paid after all. Let’s face it. You were hired to serve a purpose for the organization. At the base level, you’re hired to either solve a problem or create revenue. Contrary to popular opinion, you weren’t hired to satisfy your many, varied and ever-changing professional desires. Of course, it’s awesome when your pay and passions coincide, but the onus is on you to make the overlap happen. If you are always looking for the “next best thing” in a work arrangement, you can’t take full satisfaction from the one you have.
2. Don’t get stale.
We hear it all the time when someone describes their side of a relationship failure. “We just grew apart.” If you’re not taking the initiative to grow the relationship, you’ll soon find yourself in trouble. This holds true for couples as well as employees and employers.
The blistering pace and relentless cycles of change are the new normal. It doesn’t require too many brain cells to rattle off companies or entire industries that once thrived just 10-15 years ago. Their inability to respond to the competitive landscape has rendered them extinct or beyond recognition of their former selves. Think Blockbuster, Borders, Kodak, Yellow Cab, Yahoo, MySpace, Motorola, Sun Microsystems. Your career is no different. If you fail to stay relevant to your employer, you get stale. Over time, stale starts to stink. Nobody likes stinky.
Here’s the lesson. While you spend lots of time and energy doing your job, don’t neglect working on your job. Put another way – work just as hard at improving yourself professionally as you do working the job. Find ways to improve and strengthen the skills and value you bring to the market. The job you have now won’t exist in its current form, if at all in 10 years. It’s your responsibility to grow, not your employer’s. Find ways to get better at what you do and prepare your career for future demands of the economy.
3. It’s what you do, and how you do it.
Being right is not enough. Most people learn this the hard way. In a personal relationship squabble, we leverage being right as the green light to act wrong. When we poorly handle being right, we end up paying for it in the long run. For the office setting, it usually plays out as winning the battle and losing the proverbial war. Nobody likes the office know-it-all whose “holier than thou” attitude alienates. I see it all the time. People are hired for their technical skills, and fired for their soft skills. No matter how great your skills and ability may be, at best, it’s only half the equation to succeed.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) has gained in popularity as a key metric to predict great workplace fits. This little brother is all grown up now. EI is a legitimate metric to the once singular gold standard of fit, the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). For decades, IQ was a primary measurement to how people were hired, fired, or promoted. Times have changed. To thrive in today’s workplace, your value is directly tied to the results you produce. Our interconnected workplace requires more collaboration than ever to produce results. Because of this, the ratio of IQ/EI has shifted.
Many business gurus have dubbed EI as the “it” factor of today’s top performers. Getting along with others is a key ingredient to workplace achievement. Looks like kindergarten may have taught us more about career development than just sharing crayons and learning to tie our shoes.
Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. Career success comes down to results. Results require IQ and EI and consistent effort. You can’t just be the office party planner or cubical comedian to get ahead. Conversely, you can’t channel Mad Max in the Thunderdome, laser focused only on a “win at all costs” battle cry. Keep these factors in the right balance and reap the rewards of a successful and fulfilling career.
4. Just drop it.
In marriages, small offenses can pile up over time and result in an eventual blowout. Do you have a longstanding grudge against a coworker? You may have been wronged, overlooked, or underappreciated. We’ve all been there. It’s easy to vilify or even demonize our jobs, coworkers or sometimes toxic bosses. Let go of the past. Choose to show some love and move on to a better work relationship. The reality is that your coworkers are human also, and screw up just like you. Sure, you’re better looking and not nearly as narcissistic as that new girl in accounting but hey, she is just trying to make it through the day too. Life is short. Let go of the past. The principle of love it or leave it applies both in the personal world and professional one.
5. Work relationships are based on mutual need – and mutual benefit.
Problems occur in relationships when expectations are out of whack. They also suffer when one party continually demands that their needs take precedence. For most of us, work is vital to our livelihood. Unless of course, we become a YouTube Phenom, or have parents with a totally awesome basement. As important as work is, we have to remember that at the end of the day, it’s just a job.
Trouble ensues when we expect too much from our job. Sure, the advent of flexible work arrangements, work from home, and creative work assignments exist to improve worker conditions (and productivity). Whether you are in corporate America, nonprofit, the military, or the mission fields, it’s important to remember that the worker/employer relationship is based on the employer hiring the employee to serve a purpose.
Be careful – it’s easy to highlight the negative and oppressive aspects of work, coworkers, and the boss. In doing so, we conveniently forget the tangible benefits the job provides. You know: pay, benefits, doing something that matters, and making an impact on the world. Don’t make a long-term decision based on a temporary emotion.
Think back to when you joined the company and took this job. Can you remember the excitement and thrill of the match? I’m pretty sure no one inserted bamboo shoots under your fingernails or waterboarded you until you said “Yes, I accept.” You took this job of your own free will – imperfections and all. And yes, your employer took you, and your sometimes late filing of TPS reports a la Office Space, and work from home days when your kid is sick.
For your own health, and the sanity of everyone around you, stop expecting your work or boss to fill your own set of personal and social needs. Unless you’re in an abusive work environment, stand by your choice. Choose to be “all in” at work. Find ways to constantly add value. Eventually it will pay dividends – in either this job or the next.
6. Do something new; spice things up.
Marriage therapists often say that couples who hit a dry spell or relationship funk should find ways to spice things up. Our jobs are no different. Let's face it: sometimes work is a grind. There’s just no way around it.
Tenured professionals who win in the long run have learned to self-manage and minimize the effects of grind. It could be as simple as taking a new route to the office. Maybe try different work hours if possible or vary your lunch routine. During the day, use a different set of stairs or a different bathroom. Rearrange your workspace. You get the idea. The change of scenery and break in pattern may provide you just enough change to help you move past your workplace blues.
You can also take a different approach to the tasks you perform. Look at everything you do with fresh eyes. Ask yourself, “How can I make this work better or have greater impact to my customer?” Taking time to look past the trees and find the proverbial forest may provide the perspective you need. You may be surprised. Simple tweaks to approach and methods at work can reignite your passion for it. Many find this newfound passion contagious. Your new mindset just might create the inertia to push over the first domino of needed change.
7. Rediscover your funny bone.
Many of us take both work and life way too seriously. If you study top performers in your company and industry, it’s very likely you’ll uncover consistent use of fun and humor. Most times, the top performers are having fun at their jobs. Fun and work are not mutually exclusive. You may not run the entire show in your workplace. However, you are CEO of all the grey matter between your ears. Just like love, fun can be a conscious choice for you to own.
Before the chronically negative, fault finding Debbie downers tune me out, hang on. “This all may sound good in theory, but introducing fun into my work environment just won’t fly.” I get it. For you, the notion of fun and work go together like clip-on ties and short sleeved dress shirts, or Kanye West and an open microphone – they just don’t mix.
If you find work humorless and not very fun, most likely your coworkers do, too. There are tons of easy ways for you to safely inject fun and humor into the workplace. When used appropriately, humor and fun in the workspace can have a strong impact on attitude, morale. and overall results.
If we alter a few words from Ghandi, we get a nudge in this direction:
Don’t wait for someone else to start the fun in your office; be the positive change you wish to see in the workplace.
8. Special note for the bosses…
Bad bosses suck. More bad news. Odds are, you either are one, or have one. Study after study validates this sad fact. Our workplaces need better leaders. While it may be lonely at the top, remember that the view from up there is pretty darn good. The opportunity to foster love in the workplace resides squarely on the shoulders of the leader. Take ownership to build, or grow, your culture of workplace love. The business benefits are tangible and directly impact the bottom line. When leaders take responsibility for the revenue, output, and the culture, productivity and profit soar, retention becomes an enviable asset, and the top talent you’re chasing flocks to your door. If you’re a boss, please re-read #7 again. If someone you know needs to hear this, re-post or pass along. Maybe the message will get through and impact others along the way.
As we approach Valentine’s Day, take a few moments to evaluate your love for work. Go all in. You’ll be glad you did.