Tag Archives: career development

You Have No Life? That’s The New Status Symbol!

March 7, 2017

Not surprising, really, but a new study highlights how enamored so many busy careerists are by their decline of leisure time. In fact, increasing numbers aspire to having no life.

The research found that some people boast about the lack of spare time as a status symbol —even an aspirational lifestyle. According to Harvard Business School’s Anat Keinan, the lead author of the study with colleagues from Columbia and Georgetown, “People used to spend their time in ostentatiously unproductive ways to show their status,” says Keinan. But now, something in our culture has changed about how status is achieved, as conspicuous ostentatious consumption has become less socially acceptable. Those wishing to flaunt their status have had to find more subtle ways to show their value. At the same time, our go-go workplaces are emphasizing and rewarding 24×7 productivity.

“When we talk about traditional conspicuous consumption, it’s about consuming scarce and expensive things like jewelry or money or cars,” Keinan says. “But the new conspicuous consumption is about saying, I am the scarce resource, and therefore I am valuable.”

Keinan pointed out that the notion of equating “busyness” with status flies in the face of decades of social history, where enjoyment of nonproductive leisure time was seen as a mark of a successful life. The ability to fritter away your hours was considered the apex of success as evidenced in books from sociologist Thorstein Veblen’s 1899 classic The Theory of the Leisure Class (he coined the term “conspicuous consumption”) to television shows such as “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” If you didn’t actually have a life of leisure, you could pretend you did by buying increasingly affordable luxury brands like Cadillac or Rolex.

The study’s findings were described by Michael Blanding in a Harvard Business School post, based on an interview with Keinan about the research, to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Blanding described six experiments the researchers set up to gauge our attitudes about luxury and busyness. As a preliminary test, the researchers combed through social media posts by celebrities compiled by Harris Wittels, author of Humblebrag, The Art of False Modesty, and found more than 1 in 10 were about being too busy or “not having a life.” (A typical example: “Hi, I’m 16 and I’m publishing 3 books and an album this year. Do you have any advice on how to handle it best?”) Continue reading

Share

Does More Money or More Time Bring Greater Happiness?

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.47.41 AMFebruary 23, 2016

Here’s a bit of new research I came across. It’s findings sound intuitively obvious, but I think it’s important to emphasize: The study found that valuing your time over the pursuit of money is linked to greater overall happiness. This finding highlights one aspect of a link between healthy personal values and psychologically healthy lives. I regularly see this in my work, and wish it would be more soundly emphasized by my fellow mental health professionals.

In the research, a series of studies of nearly 5,000 people was conducted by the University of British Columbia. It found that there’s a pretty even divide among people’s preferences for valuing their time vs. their money. Unfortunately — but not surprisingly, given our cultural view about what’s most “desirable” in life — only about half of the study’s participants said they valued their time over money. However, slightly more than half of the people were found to value their time over their money.

The important finding, however, was that the preference for giving priority to time over making more money was associated with greater happiness in life. And happiness, wellbeing, equanimity and psychological health are all interwoven.

The study is described in detail here, and was published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science.

Interestingly, the study also found that older people also were more likely to say they valued their time compared to younger people. This raises questions about the impact of age upon one’s values and overall life perspectives; and whether the shift in mentality and values hat occurs with increasing age can be supported and grown at earlier stages of life. Continue reading

Share

Are You ‘Checked-Out’ On the Job? Here’s Why

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 2.49.30 PMFebruary 16, 2016

You may have heard about the Spanish man who was found to have not reported for work for six years, and no one noticed — although he continued to be paid. When finally discovered, he claimed that when he did go to work, he had nothing to do.

That may be an extreme example, but many people today are turned-off by their jobs in less visible ways. They become pretty disengaged from work – either mentally checking out, or in actual behavior if they can – like faking doing work, or skipping out to go to a movie. Surveys find disengagement as high as 70% of American workers. It’s no surprise that nearly every day a new survey pops up about how much people dislike their jobs and their management. The reasons typically include severe, unrelenting stress from too many demands and too few resources or rewards, such as cited in a poll of 7000 people. Both stress and just tuning out are often rooted in debilitating, undermining management behavior and workplace culture. For example, a survey of 2,000 workers found that 47 percent said their managers made them feel threatened, rather than rewarded, and 24 percent thought their bosses were poor communicators, lacking empathy.

Three Sources of Boredom and Disengagement

But I find three additional, often overlooked reasons why employees tune out or disconnect from their work, and become bored or depressed on the job:

Too Much Mismatch – This occurs when you start to realize that “I just don’t belong here.” An example is a woman working in financial services who described to me an increasing mismatch Continue reading

Share

To Get More Creative, Become Less Productive

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 2.42.57 PMFebruary 2, 2016

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Art Markman highlights the value of subverting your usual way of thinking and doing, in order to enhance creativity at work. I’ve seen this borne out in the experiences of those who’ve tried stepping out of their comfort zone, outside of their usual “box;” and become more of an “outlier” in their approach to solving problems or dealing with new challenges,

Markman writes:

There is a fundamental tension between productivity and creativity, and managers won’t get more of the latter until they recognize it. Productive people move through the tasks they have to accomplish in a systematic way. They make steady and measurable progress toward their goals. They make effective and efficient use of their time.

Creativity… doesn’t. Creativity needs time and space to grow. Although we can systematically engage in activities that are related to creativity, it is hard to systematize creativity itself. In particular, creativity is fundamentally about knowledge. Nearly all creative ideas involve people finding new uses for existing knowledge – some novel configuration of old insights. James Dyson developed his vacuum by drawing a parallel to sawmills. Fiona Fairhurst designed a faster swimsuit by understanding shark skin. George de Mestral invented Velcro by understanding cockleburs.

That means people need to have the time to learn things that are not obviously relevant to their jobs, so that they will have a broad and deep knowledge base to draw from when they need to be creative. Moreover, creative enterprises rarely involve steady and measurable progress. Instead, being creative involves trying lots of different possibilities, struggling down several blind alleys before finding the right solution. Continue reading

Share

Are You Emotionally Connected With Your Work? Does It Matter?

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 9.42.36 PMDecember 15, 2015

Some new research about workplace behavior caught my attention recently. It highlights — by omission — the important link between an organization’s management culture and the psychological experience of working within it. That’s a link that needs to be examined, but often isn’t; and this study illustrates that gap. It found that people who report feeling emotionally engaged and connected with their work and their organizations also experience greater psychological well-being.

That finding may sound obvious, though it’s always good to have empirical data confirm the obvious. In this case, it shows that if you’re among the fortunate ones who feel engaged and positive about your work and management, you’re likely to experience a greater sense of wellbeing. The problem is, most people aren’t so fortunate, as surveys repeatedly show. But this study does expose important questions, raised by its own findings:

What, exactly, promotes a sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with? And how might that increase your overall sense of well-being?

First, let’s look at the study, conducted in Denmark and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. Among employees in various workgroups the study found significantly higher well-being concerning “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” Those employees also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. Of course. That makes good sense, and most companies would likely agree. The problem is that a positive sense of connection with work requires several conditions and factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. Among the most important are, in my view:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements?
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show.

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within today’s environment – one of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals; and how people are redefining personal and career success.

Credit: Lionbridge

A version of this article previously appeared in The Huffington Post.

Share

Feeling Emotionally Connected To Work Is Linked With Greater Psychological Wellbeing…But Why?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.47.20 AMNovember 3, 2015

I came across this new research finding that people who feel emotionally engaged and connected with their work experience greater psychological wellbeing. That may sound obvious, though it’s good whenever empirical data confirms the obvious. But I think the missing piece in the research is what, exactly, promotes that sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with?

This study from Denmark, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. It found significantly higher well-being for employees in workgroups with “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” They also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. This makes sense, of course. Most companies would likely agree. The problem is that sense of connection with work reflects many factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. For example:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements? 
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show. 

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within our culture of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals, and how people re-define personal and career success. 

Credit: Forbes

Share

How Can You Deal With An Abusive Boss?

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 10.26.57 AMOctober 20, 2015

I’ve written previously about abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management in general, and I’m revisiting it a bit here, because of a new study that highlights the difficulty people have when dealing with this kine of management environment. And not just employees: sometimes researchers themselves have a naive understanding of the problem.

That is, some recent research about employees who deal with abusive bosses shows that a well-intentioned study of workplace behavior can produce findings that confound the researchers’ predictions. This research found one unsurprising result; but another part of the findings – which puzzled the researchers — is what caught my eye.

To explain, the research surveyed the ways in which employees behave when working for abusive bosses. Those are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive — or outright undermining — of employee’s learning and development.

The unsurprising part of the findings was that just trying to avoid the abusive boss or plotting ways to retaliate didn’t work. That made things worse for the employee, according to the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.

Rather, the other set of findings is what got my attention. Here, the researchers predicted that “acts of compassion and empathy — employees who assist bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping bosses with heavy workloads even when they’re not asked” would lead to diminished abuse by those bosses. And, that “acts of kindness might help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.”

The researchers were surprised to discover that it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the study’s co-author Charlice Hurst, “Abusive supervisors didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful.” The researchers concluded that their findings seemed to “clash with common sense.”

Really? I think most anyone who’s ever worked for abusive bosses would laugh at such “common sense” assumptions. No, trying to be “nice” or empathic towards the narcissistic, arrogant boss who often makes conflicting demands on employees isn’t going to produce positive change. Continue reading

Share

Covert Sexism In The Workplace Is As Harmful As Overt Behavior

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 2.44.35 PMOctober 6, 2015

Our workplaces are steadily evolving towards environments in which men and women are valued, recognized and rewarded for their ability to work collaboratively with others who differ from them – whether gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation. It’s a gradual process, however, and it’s important to document and raise awareness of the attitudes and behavior that continue to undermine individuals and teams in organizations. A current example is this study: It found that that frequent sexist comments and management cultures that are covertly demeaning to women are just as damaging to women as acts of sexual coercion or overtly sexual conduct and behavior towards them.

The research, published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that “Norms, leadership, or policies, that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,” according to the authors. “However, the more frequent, less intense, and often unchallenged gender harassment, sexist discrimination, sexist organizational climate and organizational tolerance for sexual harassment appeared at least as detrimental for women’s wellbeing. They should not be considered lesser forms of sexism.” The research team analyzed 88 independent studies of a combined 73,877 working women, and found following associations:

  • Sexism and gender harassment were just as harmful to working women’s individual health and work attitudes as common job stressors such as work overload and poor working conditions.
  • When women are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, they are more dissatisfied with supervisors than co-workers.
  • There was a trend of a more negative effect of sexism and harassment in male-dominated workplaces, such as the armed forces and financial and legal services firms. However, the authors suggested this required further research.

The authors added, “Our results suggest that organizations should have zero tolerance for low intensity sexism, the same way they do for overt harassment. This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low intensity sexist events, not only for women, but also for the overall organizational climate.”

Credit: Aiste Miseviciute/Alamy

Share

The Most Energized, Productive Workers: Not Who You Might Think!

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 5.34.51 PMSeptember 15, 2015

What fuels the energy and excitement that’s visible among people who are highly engaged and productive at work? Is it something about what they bring to their careers to begin with? The management culture they experience? Or, are those qualities found mostly among the young, because of youthful energy, as some surveys indicate?

Some new research sheds some light on this. It finds that the most energized and creative workers are not only the young, age-wise. They are best described as “young at heart.” The secret ingredient is their emotional attitude about life in general; and the way they typically respond and deal with negative, stressful experiences. That’s what differentiates them from others. But these interesting findings also raise this question: Why so many work cultures actively undermine the positive energy and vitality that such people bring into their workplaces? And which – one would think – companies would value and support in every way possible.

First, let’s look what at the evidence from two unrelated but complementary studies tell us about this. In brief, the first found that your overall attitude about life – independent of age -influences your performance and creativity at work. The other study found that positive emotions and your outlook on life — especially how you deal with stressful circumstances or conflict — is linked with greater long-term health. And many sources of stress are found in the workplace, needless to say. Continue reading

Share

How Good Leaders Help People Change And Grow

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 9.49.07 AMAugust 11, 2015

This Harvard Business Review article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman suggests ways in which good leaders enable people to change. I think it captures some of the best attitudes and behavior of those leaders who value the growth and development of their employees.

However, there’s one missing element that I would like to have seen the authors include and emphasize. They defined effectiveness at leading change as “…the managers’ ability to influence others to move in the direction the organization wanted to go.” True, per se – but only if that direction promotes collaboration, creative innovation, learning and development; occurs within a positive, healthy leadership culture; is committed to sustainable practices; and in which leadership conveys – as recent studies find is essential to a productive workplace — a sense of humbleness and empathy in one’s leadership role. 

With that caveat, I think the authors describe eight leadership practices that do support positive change among employees. They are based on their analysis of a large dataset of direct reports and leaders. Following is their description of them, excerpted from their HBR article.

They write: Continue reading

Share

Men Are More Threatened By Female Bosses

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 2.17.00 PM

July 21, 2015

As the French saying goes, the more things change…

New research finds that men may feel threatened by female supervisors and act more assertively toward them than male bosses, which could disrupt the workplace with struggles over power dynamics. According to the study’s lead author, Ekaterina Netchaeva, of Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, “The concept of masculinity is becoming more elusive in society as gender roles blur, with more women taking management positions and becoming the major breadwinners for their families. “Even men who support gender equality may see these advances as a threat to their masculinity, whether they consciously acknowledge it or not.”

The study, conducted with participants at U.S. universities, found, in essence, that men feel more threatened when they answer to female bosses.

Published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the study pointed out that — while women are underrepresented in senior management positions in the United States — they are almost on par with men at middle and lower management levels, according to Labor Department statistics. Self-assertive behavior by men toward female bosses could disrupt the workplace dynamics, stifle team cohesiveness and negatively affect team performance, Netchaeva said. “In an ideal world, men and organizations would be concerned by these findings and adjust their behavior accordingly. But if they don’t, where does that leave women?” she said. “Given the strong societal norms surrounding masculinity, it may be difficult for men to recognize or change their behavior.”

For a description of how the studies were conducted, click here.

Credit: CPD Archive

Share

Bosses Who Serve Their Employees Have Better Business Outcomes

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 3.57.51 PM

July 7, 2015

A recent study has found that when bosses put employees’ needs over their own, measurable improvements result: in customer satisfaction, higher job performance by employees, and lower turnover are the result. According to the researchers, this type of leadership suggests that if businesses lead by caring for their people, the profits will take care of themselves.

Although this study focused on a service-oriented business, I think its implications highlight something broader: The findings mirror growing recognition by organizations, by individuals in relationships and throughout society in general that positive, supportive engagement with others — in which you serve something of value and importance to all of you, and not just your own narrow self-interest – creates positive benefits for everyone. And that’s really a core feature of a healthy society – one in which people’s attitudes, values and behavior adapt positively to continuous change; to the growing diversity and interconnection among people. Such adaptation promotes positive outcomes for all. Business leadership, as this and many other studies show, increasingly recognizes that reality. But it also applies to intimate and family relationships; and has implications for public policy, as well.

This particular study adds another bit of evidence in the business realm. For example, it found that when bosses act as servants to their employees, it’s good for business. The research found measurable increases in key business metrics like job performance, customer service and employee retention. That is, employees feel the most valued and give back to the company and its customers when their bosses create a culture of trust, caring, cooperation, fairness and empathy. According to Sandy Wayne, one of the authors of the research, “The best business leadership style is far from, ‘Do this. Don’t do that.’ A servant leader looks and sounds a lot more like, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ Or, ‘Let me help you….’ Or, ‘What do you need to…?’ This approach helps employees reach their full potential.”

The corresponding admiration employees have for bosses who care about them manifests itself in teamwork, loyalty and dedication to the business and its customers. The leadership style trickles down. Wayne said, “It’s contagious. The employees see their leaders as role models and often mimic those qualities, creating a culture of servant leadership. This serving culture drives the effectiveness of the business as a whole.”

The need for management cultures that recognize and support this kind of leadership is highlighted when you consider the frequent surveys that show ongoing work-related stress, often associated with negative or unsupportive leadership. One current example is a survey of over 2000 people. It found that the majority of workers feel overworked, and that burnout appears to have become the new normal.

And that’s a prescription for an unhealthy workforce and society.

Credit: ASTD

Share

Workers With a “Spirit of Life” Are More Productive – At Any Age

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 4.45.50 PMJune 9, 2015

Are the most energized and creative workers young, per se; or are they “young at heart?” A new study sheds some light on this: It found that your own sense of yourself; your overall attitude about life influences your work. I describe the findings below, but the study brings to mind that we often speak of the “spirit of youth” when describing an older person who conveys vitality, passion and engagement. However, I think it’s more accurate to think of that spirit as a spirit about life itself. It may be more embodied within or visible among younger people, but I attribute that to this: Many people in our culture enter a long descent into emotional, creative and spiritual stagnation — via the values of a self-centered, overly materialistic society. That’s what I see in so many of the people who have come to me for help – either for personal issues or career-related conflicts.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was described in The British Psychological Society’s publication, Research Digest, and it concludes that If you want a dynamic workforce, seek not the young, but the young at heart. The study surveyed over 15,000 employees from 107 companies to determine how subjective age influences workplace performance. It found that employees who felt substantially younger than their chronological age were more successful in meeting the goals they’d promised their managers they would achieve. Companies with more of these “young at heart” employees also tended to perform better overall, in terms of financial performance, efficiency and a longer tenured workforce. The survey also showed that organizations tended to have more young at heart workers when they offered both age-inclusive policies and, on average, their employees felt that their work was more important and meaningful.

This raises questions about what’s needed to counter that long descent that I described above. Among the possibilities are more meaningful, engaging work, which can enable people feel more vibrant and experience some impact upon the consequences of their contribution. When workers can feel young, energized by their work — and not judged and stereotyped — that facilitates the kind of dynamic performance thought to be limited to younger workers…until they begin that slow descent into stagnation.

Credit: Pharic Crawford 

Share

Become More Productive at Work by Giving it Less Attention?

Screen shot 2015-02-17 at 2.56.34 PM

February 17, 2015

I often suggest to business clients — as well as to some of my psychotherapy patients — that they create a “life project” in which they commit to personal development within these six interrelated dimensions of life: intellectual, emotional, relational, creative, spiritual and physical. Note that none of these relate explicitly to work and career. But when you do this — creating new goals or aspirations for each dimension, and taking steps that pull you towards them, you find that it also enhances your effectiveness and productivity at work. You realize how interrelated the different “parts” of your life is.

In an interesting Harvard Business Review article, Stew Friedman of the Wharton School describes research confirming that building an integrated life will, in fact, increase work effectiveness and productivity. This is important, because I think we’re seeing increasing evidence that when you seek to develop and “grow” more fully, in all dimensions, it enhances your overall life — your inner wellbeing and your outer success.

Friedman’s study has a somewhat different take on the dimensions of life from those I described above, but it confirms the value of bringing “parts” of your life into greater integration and harmony. That leads to a seeming paradox: By giving less focus to your work, you perform better at it.

He writes, “…what if the secret to performing better at work, and feeling more satisfied, isn’t to put more effort and energy into work but less? Instead of working harder and longer, what if you better integrated the four domains of your life – work, home, community, and self? My research has shown just that: By focusing more on the areas of life you care most about, even if those aren’t work, you’ll perform better at your job.”

In the research, Friedman asked participants to experiment with small changes “to see how those tweaks affected all four domains over a short period of time.” He pointed out that there are, of course, barriers to integrating the dimensions of one’s life, such as fear of change. But learning to minimize them can make it more likely to try, “thereby getting more done and creating greater harmony in your life.”

He suggested these three ways of minimizing the barriers: Continue reading

Share

How a Leader’s Power Can Undermine the Company’s Success

Screen shot 2015-01-27 at 2.05.36 PM

January 27, 2015

The role and impact of power in an organization is complex. It’s highly interwoven with the attitudes and personality of people who have achieved power and status within their organizations, and how they express it. Recent studies show that some bosses use the power of their positions in ways that damage their teams and the organization. They may be driven by socially conditioned, conventional attitudes about power and ego; or by more outright psychopathology.

On the more benign end of the spectrum are the findings from a study lead by researchers at Columbia University’s Business School. It found that the more power-lusting, power-fixated leader tends to listen to his or her own views, but neglects to take into account the perspectives of subordinates. And that has consequences for business strategy and decisions. Published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, the research found that when leaders fail to take into account or utilize the perspectives of their people, they are more likely to “bungle the issue and conversation.” That, in turn, results in less effective solutions to complex business problems that the team is facing. In short, less wise decision-making.

According to the study’s lead author, Adam Galinsky, leaders who are able to see the world from others’ points of view produce better outcomes. “Effective leadership is like a successful car ride. To go places, you need gas and acceleration — power is a psychological accelerator. But you also need a good steering wheel so you don’t crash as you speed down the highway — perspective-taking is that psychological steering wheel. When you anchor too heavily onto your own perspective, and don’t take into account the viewpoints of others you are bound to crash.”

Galinsky’s findings are especially visible among leaders who Continue reading

Share

Why Insecure Managers Avoid Input From Employees

 

Screen shot 2014-11-04 at 11.58.42 AM

November 4, 2014

I find it amazing that new research emerges from time to time that “discovers” that ineffective, personally conflicted, psychologically limited managers and leaders have a negative impact on their employees and the organization. This latest is a good example: A study of an international corporation finds that emotionally insecure managers avoid feedback and input from their employees.

Of course, this is no news to employees who often struggle with such managers. Or to those of us who have worked with leaders and managers whose psychological issues negatively affect their impact in the organization. Nevertheless, it’s good to see such research and surveys. They highlight the need to deal with the impact of unhealthy management in general – whether insecurity, poor communication skills, arrogance, narcissism, bullying, and/or generally creating a non-collaborative, unhealthy or destructive management culture.

The current study was reported in the Academy of Management Journal and described in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digestwhich pointed out that organizations do better when there are clear communication channels that allow staff to point out ways the company can improve. And that teams who freely share ideas and concerns are more tight-knit and motivated. Managers then get enhanced awareness share in the praise for any improvements that pay off. So, the Research Digest explains, encouraging employee voice should be a no-brainer, especially for any manager feeling unsure of their ability to deliver solo. Yet according to new research, these insecure managers are the ones least likely to listen and act on staff input. Continue reading

Share

Can Business Leaders Activate These Dormant Capacities?

Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 10.07.22 AM

In a business environment where surveys find 70% of employees saying they hate their work; and in which the demographics of leaders and employees are rapidly changing, it’s no surprise to hear — as a senior executive asked me, recently — “How can I prepare for what I can’t prepare for?”

Some recent research points the way. Several studies find that most people can arouse and apply seemingly contradictory capacities for different leadership purposes, as needed. They are latent or dormant capacities, dimensions of oneself that are both emotional and cognitive. They include the more linear, data-based, and structured; and those that are more improvised, non-linear and creative.

Research shows that activating them builds an important, broader mentality, not just a fixed set of actions. The challenge for leaders is learning how to activate and utilize these dormant capacities needed in today’s fluid, unpredictable environment.

Some examples:

The Capacity To Shift Focus At will, As Needed For The Task
Research finds that we can learn to activate and apply both linear and nonlinear capacities, as needed. One study examined this in terms of leadership orientation. Researchers at Case Western University examined a common assumption that one is fixed within either a “task” or “team-building” orientation: an analytic, linear focus on people completing tasks; or an empathic orientation, supportive of workers development and open to their ideas.

Based on brain research they published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the research team found that those capacities actually co-exist. According to lead researcher Anthony Jack, “Every normal brain contains both modes, with the flexibility to go to the right mode at the right time.” The researchers indicated that this fluidity enables a leader to shift between a more operational, linear focus, and a nonlinear focus, supporting innovative ideas and actions that enhance team collaboration and performance.

The challenge, then, is to learn how to develop and strengthen both capacities. Moreover, Continue reading

Share

Why Having A Vision Is Important — In Business And Life

Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 11.32.55 AM

Writing in Entrepreneur, Virgin founder/CEO Richard Branson cites the importance for a company to develop a vision. I find Branson’s views relevant not only to business, but to life itself.

In response to a reader’s question, he writes, “You do need to develop an overall vision for your company — one that is strongly supported by a more targeted strategy at each business that falls under your umbrella. The two things are not mutually exclusive, but complementary: One should not override the other.” And, “…we have started up more than 400 companies…and as the success of our group has proved, your vision for your company should not be so restrictive that it limits your team’s imagination.”

This applies to one’s personal development, as well, in my view. That is, we need an overarching vision of what we’re living for; a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives that provides overall integration and direction. And that requires flexibility and adaptability as we “evolve” along the way. Branson reflects this same perspective with respect to business, writing that “Starting up a business is always an adventure, and not everything comes together for every entrepreneur in the same way. As you face the challenges of keeping your business going, you may find that your vision for the company needs to be adjusted as you go.”

That’s a valuable perspective for your life development, as well — in your relationships, your career, your life goals. Branson adds, “Looking back, our goals certainly changed and expanded over time, but there was a key element that was common to all of those enterprises: They were created to enhance people’s lives.” I think that latter point is relevant to your personal and societal development as well, because in out interdependent world personal success is interwoven with support of and enhancement of others’ lives — the larger common good. It’s clear that this reality is stirring major turmoil in business, public policy and personal lives, today.

For Branson’s full article, click here.

Share

Having a Life Purpose Increases Your Longevity

Screen shot 2014-05-22-1 at 10.23.40 AM

In the “all things are connected” department, a large-scale longitudinal study has found that people who having a sense of purpose live longer. The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that those who had died over the course of the study had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.

Summarized in a report from the Association for Psychological Science, the study also found that having a life purpose consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, whether for younger, middle-aged, or older participants.

According to the lead researcher, Patrick Hill, the findings indicate that creating “…a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose.” The study examined data from over 6000 people, including their self-reported level of purpose in life, across a 14-year follow-up period.

The study also found that a sense of purpose had similar benefits regardless of retirement status, a known mortality risk factor. And, that the longevity benefits of life purpose held up even after other indicators of well-being, such as positive relations and positive emotions, were taken into account. “These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity,” says Hill.

Can Your Create a Sense of Purpose?

I think he’s right, but it’s more likely that they are interwoven factors: A sense of purpose is likely inseparable from a positive spirit about living, which infuses both physical and emotional wellbeing over the long-run.

So how can you create a sense of purpose within today’s turbulent, often confusing world? Most people acknowledge there are “parts” of themselves – desires, imaginative capacities — that remain stifled or dormant. Family experiences and conditioning into your beliefs and values often result in a limited, constricted definition of who you are. For example, Continue reading

Share

Humble Leaders Support Greater Employee Innovation and Engagement

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 9.48.17 AM

 

Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires. A new study by Catalyst supports this, finding it a critical leadership factor. Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib’s Harvard Business Review Blog describes these new findings, which indicate that altruism makes employees more innovative and engaged – especially when working with employees from diverse backgrounds, which is increasingly common. The authors write:

In a global marketplace where problems are increasingly complex, no one person will ever have all the answers. That’s why Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says…“Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock—it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

recent Catalyst study backs this up, showing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. In a survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., we found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers — a style characterized by 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results — they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams. This was true for both women and men.

Employees who perceived altruistic behavior from their managers also reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Moreover, they were more likely to report engaging in team citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, picking up the slack for an absent colleague — all indirect effects of feeling more included in their workgroups.

For the full article, click here.

 

Share

Walking Increases Creative Thinking

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 1.48.01 PMAnother bit of research adds to the continuing empirical evidence for the interconnections of mind/body/spirit/behavior. This study found that the act of walking increases one’s creative thinking. In this study, Stanford University researchers examined creativity levels when people walked versus sitting. They found that one’s creative output increased by 60% when they walked. The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and described by May Wong in a Stanford University release. She writes:

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. And perhaps you’ve paced back and forth on occasion to drum up ideas. A new study by Stanford researchers provides an explanation for this. Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, andDaniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study found Continue reading

Share

The Rapid Transformation Of Business Leaders Is Underway

Screen shot 2014-03-29 at 5.48.05 PMA version of my article previously appeared in The Huffington Post
Some recent studies reveal a dramatically changing face of business leaders already underway; and, what the leadership needs of the future will look like. I see these and other related observations coinciding with a broader shift in our society, and perhaps worldwide. It’s towards heightened interconnection and interdependence, desire for diversity, collaboration as part of the DNA, and a major shift in attitudes about hierarchy and success.

One study of Fortune 100 executives, featured in the Harvard Business Review, found that the majority of senior executives today went to state universities, not the more elite schools. A Washington Post report of the study pointed out that “In 1980, just 32 percent of leaders went to a public university. By 2001 that had grown to 48 percent, and in 2011 the number reached a majority, with 55 percent of corporate leaders going to state colleges.”

Moreover, nearly 11 percent are foreign born. And while women still deal with the glass ceiling, they have a more rapid rise to the top ranks, today. Nevertheless, it’s significant to note that nearly 87 percent of corporate board seats are held by white workers. According to research by DiversityInc and the think tank Catalyst, six African Americans are Fortune 500 CEOs, and 7.4 percent hold corporate board seats; eight Hispanics are Fortune 500 CEOs, and 3.3 percent hold corporate board seats.

Even so, it’s clear that a shift is underway along many fronts. For example, Continue reading

Share

Emerging Leadership Needs Of The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 9.35.56 AMA fascinating study by the Hay Group and German futurists at Z-Punkt identifies six trends that their research indicates will shape leadership needs in the years ahead.

I think their findings about leadership needs are very consistent with an ongoing, significant evolution in all sectors of society and in individual lives today, towards heightened collaboration, connection, emotional attunement to others, interdependency and diversity.

The report, Leadership 2030, speaks of the rise of the “altorocentric” leader: In a Washington Post interview by Jena McGregor, Georg Vielmetter of the Hay Group, explains that “Altrocentric” means “…focusing on others. Such a leader doesn’t put himself at the very center. He knows he needs to listen to other people. He knows he needs to be intellectually curious and emotionally open. He knows that he needs empathy to do the job, not just in order to be a good person.” And, “…leaders in the future need to have a full understanding, and also an emotional understanding, of diversity.”

Vielmetter points out that “…positional power and hierarchical power will become smaller. Power will shift to stakeholders, reducing the authority of the people who are supposed to lead the organization.” Perhaps most significantly, “The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who gives direction to everybody and sets the pace, whom everybody follows because this person is so smart and intelligent and clever — this time is over. We need a new kind of leader who focuses much more on relationships and understands that leadership is not about himself.”

Regarding the younger generation, he adds that, “With the Baby Boomer generation, you understood you climb up the ladder and you’re the boss at the end. The new generation has less and less interest to do this….for them it’s just not so important to become the boss. That causes a big problem for organizations. They offer people big jobs, and they don’t want them. They value their private life more.”

For McGregor’s full interview with Vielmetter, click here.

Share

How The Younger Generations Can Leap Into The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 11.10.37 AMHere are some insightful perspectives — and suggestions — for the younger generations, from management strategist Umair Haque. Writing in his Harvard Business School Blog, Haque addresses the dilemma facing young people today:

Imagine a towering, sheer cliff. Imagine a deep canyon below, full of ruined cities. Now imagine, on the canyon’s other side, a bountiful plain, rippling in the breeze, stretching into the sunset. Welcome to the economy of the twenty-first century. For young people today, the economy basically feels something like the portrait above, and they’re the ones stuck at the bottom of the ravine.

After citing four conditions that young people face — a broken global economy; overwhelming debts; difficulty getting a job or career track; and the jobs available are not very good — Haque says welcome to “Generation F” — i.e. you’re getting screwed. He points out that

We are all here, in every moment, to make the most of our limitless potential—but your human potential is being squandered, wasted, thrown away.

But he then presents some positive directions that young people can take to deal productively and proactively with the reality they live in. They’re worth heeding. In his full article, “The Great Leap Generation F Needs to Make,” he writes: Continue reading

Share

The Fast-Changing Face of Corporate Leaders

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 12.15.38 PMWho are the people in senior leadership roles today? An interesting report by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post sheds light on this. She summarizes the findings of a new study, published by the Harvard Business School, of Fortune 100 executives. It finds that the majority of senior executives were educated at state universities, not at the elite schools. Nearly 11 percent are foreign born. And while women still deal with the glass ceiling, they have a more rapid rise to the top ranks, today.

I think these findings have potentially significant implications for corporate cultures. For example, what will be the impact on outlook, vision, and management perspectives from ever-increasing numbers of ever-increasing diverse people? Moreover, what will emerge from this rising diversity of executive leaders in conjunction with a growing shift in worker’s orientations to the job, to what they look for from management, and to what they define as “success?” There are several moving parts.

The study was conducted by researchers from Penn’s Wharton School and from the IE Business School in Madrid. For McGregor’s article, click here. For the full report in the Harvard Business Review, click here.

Share

Why Companies Benefit From “Outlier” Employees

Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 2.19.59 PMA recent post on the Harvard Business School Blog by Robert D. Austin and Thorkil Sonne argues that seeking out “outlier” employees bring great benefit to companies. I think this is an important perspective. Companies and organizations need creative innovation to address challenging and changing conditions, whatever their service, product or mission. The authors write,

Most companies don’t perceive the value of people who think or behave differently. Managers are unaware that outliers can create enormous value if they’re placed into environments that maximize their ability to contribute. By bringing out the best in people who think differently, you position your company for greater advantage. That’s because innovation, which is a critical skill for businesses today, is driven by diversity of thought. When you can’t foresee the biggest opportunities and problems coming your way, then your people assets must provide your company with the ability to adapt. This ability arises from employees who see things from new perspectives—people from different backgrounds, and those with different cognitive, developmental, and neurological endowments.

They being with an example of a company that hired employees with autism, and why. The full essay follows: Continue reading

Share

What Do Companies With the Happiest Workers Look Like?

Screen shot 2014-01-07 at 10.07.43 AMThe latest survey of how employees view their companies provides more evidence that the most engaged, energized and “happiest” workers are those whose workplaces and careers provide a sense of meaning, opportunity for growth, development and creative innovation — more than just pay or career advancement. This survey, conducted by Glassdoor, was summarized in a Fast Company story by Drake Baer about six “secrets” of the happiest workplaces.

Baer writes,”Rather than showing a focus on perks, compensation, and other incentives, the best-rated workplaces had a range of intrinsic motivators, like challenging work, impact upon society, and an opportunity to work with brilliant colleagues.” This year’s overall winners were the consultancy Bain & Company, who was named best large company to work for. The investment website the Motley Fool won for best medium-sized company, while Twitter was named the best tech company to work for.

Unsurprisingly, tech firms were overrepresented in the top 50–though the results have little to do with Silicon Valley perks. “Rather than ‘it’s because they pay a lot’ or because it’s ‘hey, we’re Facebook, and we give everyone as much food as they possibly eat,'” says Glassdoor SVP of People Allyson Willoughby, “the reasons people like where they work were much deeper.”

Click here for the full report and listing of top companies from the survey.

Share

In Search of Solutions to Life’s Complexity

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 9.17.13 AMA recent article in The Economist  discussed the impact of complexity in business. It highlights, indirectly, some themes that I think infiltrate all segments of society and that raise new challenges for personal lives as well as organizations. The Schumpeter column points out that “…managing complexity is at the top of businesspeople’s agenda. Businesspeople are confronted by more of everything than ever before. They have to make decisions at a faster pace.” For example, new products have a more uncertain future. “Harvard Business School’s William Sahlman warns young entrepreneurs about ‘the big eraser in the sky’ that can come down at any moment and ‘wipe out all their cleverness and effort’.”

The article contrasts two different views of the solutions to growing complexity: One is to recognize and accept it. It cites Don Tapscott, of “Wikinomics” fame, who observes that “…the information revolution is replacing one kind of management (command-and-control) with another (based on self-organising networks).” And John Hagel of Deloitte has talked about “…the growing disconnect between “linear institutions and the non-linear world that is developing around us.” That is, “Organisations built for this new world may look complex and unwieldy but they have an inner logic and powers of self-organisation.” The alternative solution is to impose simplicity, which the column suggests is a more persuasive strategy: “It is striking how many of the world’s most successful businesses thrive on simplicity of some sort.” And, “The biggest threat to business almost always comes from too much complexity rather than too much simplicity. The conglomerates of the 1960s crumbled because they tried to manage too many businesses in too many different industries.” For the full article, click here.

I think these observations raise broad questions, beyond business: What constitutes the most adaptive, flexible, productive and psychologically healthy ways of dealing with complexity within our individual lives, at one end of the spectrum; and for public policy, at the other? The ongoing, systemic transformation impacts personal relationships, career decisions and dilemmas, one’s values and mental outlook, one’s role as a participant citizen in society; and how to conduct one’s life, overall, in this changing world. What’s the end-game is, so to speak? These are psycho-social questions that need to be addressed as a whole. They are, well…complex.

 

Share

The Orientation of Millennials at Work Highlights a Social Transformation

Screen shot 2013-11-19 at 10.09.06 AMA recent article in the New York Times by Tom Agan, co-founder and managing partner of Rivia, highlights a significant transformation underway in our culture. Although it’s linked with the rise of the millennials, I think it’s part of a broader shift of mentality, values, outlook on life, and behavior — and will increasingly impact how people conduct their personal relationships, what they seek from their careers, and public policy. Agan’s essay describes how this shift is visible in the workplace; and why embracing it can enhance innovation and creativity, especially when joined with the experience of older workers.

Agan writes, “Social media permeate the personal, academic, political and professional lives of millennials, helping to foster the type of environment where innovation flourishes. So when compared with older generations, millennials learn quickly — and that’s the most important driver of innovation.”

And, “If corporate cultures don’t align with the transparency, free flow of information, and inclusiveness that millennials highly value — and that are also essential for learning and successful innovation — the competitiveness of many established businesses will suffer. Millennials are becoming more aware of their rising worth. Coupling their ability to learn quickly with their insistence on having a say, they pack a powerful punch.” For the complete article, click here.

An example of the innovative and creative energy of this generation is a report in Just Means that a group of Millennials have created an alternative website to HealthCare.gov: Three twenty-something programmers have created a functional website, HealthSherpa.com, that tells consumers what health insurance plans are available, based on their zip code, plan preference, and personal information. Users can find and compare plans and prices, and work with a subsidy calculator. The trio had each tried to get information from the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, but could not. So they built their own site, using data posted on HealthCare.gov and other information requested from state exchanges. Despite its limits (it can not sign up users), HealthSherpa.com has received 1.4 million views; the site’s “how to buy” buttons have been clicked over 150,000 times. It took the group just “a few days” to build out their minimal but useful site. The federal government should consider outsourcing to West Coast millennials instead of the “professionals” to get up a working HealthCare.gov.

 

Share

Are Companies In Tune With Their Own Workers?

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 5.18.03 PMIt’s clear that we’re in the midst of massive transformations in the business world and the workplace. These transformations are underway, for example, in a rising sense of responsibility to society; recognition of the workplace culture’s contribution to debilitating stress and life imbalance; the impact of the younger generations upon collaboration, innovation, and career goals; and the increasing fluidity and constant external change that impacts all organizations.

Within such flux and change, it can be difficult to assess whether the company you’re working for, or considering joining, is sufficiently in tune with the future. Is it the right mesh between, on the one hand, your own well-being, evolving career goals and personal values; and, on the other, how well the company is positioned to engage and adapt to the business and cultural shifts that will determine it’s future success?

An important question. Especially so, when nearly every week new surveys appear showing how debilitating and disconnected many leadership and management cultures are, in relation to their employees and future business scenarios.

For example, a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. workers for Root Inc., a strategy execution consulting company, examined what workers would like to see change in their companies. “Many surveys tell us there’s something wrong – we know that American workers are unhappy or not engaged, and leaders know they need make adjustments to keep the very best talent,” said Rich Berens, president of Root. “With this research, we wanted to uncover the specifics of where employees really would like to see things be different and how management can take that data and make organizational changes for the better.”

Some of their findings include: Continue reading

Share

Why Unqualified People Get Selected, Hired and Promoted

Screen shot 2013-10-15 at 11.23.34 AMIf you’ve ever wondered why people make mistakes when hiring someone for a job, or selecting a candidate for university admissions, this new study by Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino and her colleagues sheds some light on why that happens. They call it the “fundamental attribution error” — the tendency to make snap judgments about a person’s innate characteristics, which often prove incorrect.

Published in the journal PLOS One, the study was described in a Harvard Business School publication, “Working Knowledge.” The study asked, “Why do businesses evaluate candidates solely on past job performance, failing to consider the job’s difficulty? Why do university admissions officers focus on high GPAs, discounting influence of easy grading standards?”

The research found that the fundamental attribution error “is so deeply rooted in our decision making that not even highly trained people-evaluators, such as hiring managers and school admissions officers, can defeat its effects. One of the consequences is that you end up admitting people who should not be admitted, and rejecting people who should not be rejected.”

Click here for the full report.

Share

Great Companies Will Add Value More Than Extract It

Screen shot 2013-09-14 at 5.47.22 PMAn insightful article in the New York Times by Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, highlights the fact that many of the highly touted business consultants and authors — who describe high performing companies and why they will remain so — are, well…often flat wrong.

Schwartz writes that the most striking example involves Microsoft, which renowned consultant Jim Collins and his co-author of Great by Choice, Morten T. Hansen, cited, Schwartz points out, as “a great performer, and Apple, which they cite as the comparative laggard. Yes, you read that right. Here’s why: the 15-year period the authors happened to examine was 1987 to 2002.”

Schwartz asks, “How could so much research miss the mark by so far?” He explains that “…huge changes in technology in the last decade have redefined what it takes to be successful – elevating factors like the role of disruptive innovation, quickness to market and speed of responsiveness to competitors. What worked for Microsoft in the era that Mr. Collins and Mr. Hansen studied proved to be wholly inadequate to compete with Apple in the era that immediately followed.”

The prime reason Schwartz cites for getting it wrong is “the definition Mr. Collins uses for greatness…Maximizing returns for shareholders over a given period of time is narrow, one-dimensional and woefully insufficient. In an increasingly complex and interdependent world, a truly great company requires a far richer mix of qualities.”

In contrast, Schwartz emphasizes that “A company’s greatness is grounded in doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and the least harm. It is neither first nor foremost about maximizing short-term return for shareholders. Rather, it is about investing in and valuing all stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, the community and the planet – in order to generate the greatest value over the longest term for all parties, including the shareholders.”

That’s the key.

For Schwartz’s complete article, click here.

Share

How The Millennials Differ From The “Old White Guys” At Work

Screen shot 2013-07-20 at 12.15.52 PMHere’s a good description of the contrast of orientations to work, career and success between the millennial generation and older workers. Writing in a recent Inc. article How Millennials Think, and What To Do About It, Brian Halligan, CEO and co-founder of HubSpot, points out the need to understand and attract men and women of the younger generations. That means seeing and dealing with differences from what he calls OWGs (Old White Guys.) He writes, “The problem we OWGs (Old White Guys–that’s what they call us) have is that we built our companies’ cultures around the things that motivated our generation: money, career progression, and retirement plans. The Millennial generation has an entirely different consideration set for motivation, and given that they already comprise more of the workforce than GenXers and Baby Boomers, we need to invest time, money, and energy into creating workplaces that Millennial employees will love.”

In the rest of the article, Halligan contrasts the different orientations along four dimensions: Money vs. Mission; OCD vs. ADD; Place vs. Idea; and Rules vs. Judgment. He writes: Continue reading

Share

Work Better By Working “Less”

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 10.22.35 AMEvidence continues to mount that the workaholic expectations and demands of many companies are counterproductive. Both observation and research studies show that creativity and productivity increase when the work culture provides time out, so to speak — including periods for naps and vacations. Tony Schwartz, the CEO of The Energy Project, discusses this in a recent New York Times article, and points out that “A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

He writes:

THINK for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings? More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less…

“More, bigger, faster.” This, the ethos of the market economies since the Industrial Revolution, is grounded in a mythical and misguided assumption — that our resources are infinite. Time is the resource on which we’ve relied to get more accomplished. When there’s more to do, we invest more hours. But time is finite, and many of us feel we’re running out, that we’re investing as many hours as we can while trying to retain some semblance of a life outside work.

 Click here  for the full article.

Share

Self-Examination And Success

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 11.42.52 AMOne of the themes I’ve been writing about and highlighting in recent years is the crucial role that self-examination and self-awareness play in life — for internal wellbeing, personal relationships and external success in your work and career. In this recent New York Times essay, Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield provide a range of examples of just how important self-awareness is to “success,” in whatever form it takes. They write:

WHAT does self-awareness have to do with a restaurant empire? A tennis championship? Or a rock star’s dream? David Chang’s experience is instructive.

Mr. Chang is an internationally renowned, award-winning Korean-American chef, restaurateur and owner of the Momofuku restaurant group with eight restaurants from Toronto to Sydney, and other thriving enterprises, including bakeries and bars, a PBS TV show, guest spots on HBO’s “Treme” and a foodie magazine, Lucky Peach. He says he worked himself to the bone to realize his dream — to own a humble noodle bar. He spent years cooking in some of New York City’s best restaurants, apprenticed in different noodle shops in Japan and then, finally, worked 18-hour days in his tiny restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar. Mr. Chang could barely pay himself a salary. He had trouble keeping staff. And he was miserably stressed.

He recalls a low moment when he went with his staff on a night off to eat burgers at a restaurant that was everything his wasn’t — packed, critically acclaimed and financially successful. He could cook better than they did, he thought, so why was his restaurant failing? “I couldn’t figure out what the hell we were doing wrong,” he told us. Mr. Chang could have blamed someone else for his troubles, or worked harder (though available evidence suggests that might not have been possible) or he could have made minor tweaks to the menu. Instead he looked inward and subjected himself to brutal self-assessment.  Click here to continue.

Share

What Prevents Unethical Behavior In The Workplace?

A business school professor has argued that there’s a gap between business students’ description of ethical behavior in business and the traits they report in themselves. Thomas A. Wright, at Kansas State University, contends that there is a moral decline in higher education, which affects those entering the business world. “Many citizens are increasingly seeing the potentially grave consequences of dishonest and fraudulent actions by our business and political leaders,” he says.

Wright’s study examined student character strength on a number of dimensions including valor, hope, zest, honesty, critical thinking, kindness and gratitude. This is where the students exhibited gaps between their own qualities and those they value for ethical business. For example, MBA students listed honesty as one of their top five strengths. However, Wright found that 88 percent of the students reported that they have cheated in school, with many students reporting they had cheated 100 or more times. Wright said that students who cheat in school are not only more likely to cheat in graduate and professional school, but they also are more likely to engage in unethical business practices. And that this provides all the more reason for why higher education institutions should include ethical and character development. The study was reported in a news release from Kansas State, and summarized in Science Daily here:

 A Kansas State University professor’s research is showing a gap between the character traits that business students say make a good executive and the traits they describe having themselves.Thomas A. Wright, the Jon Wefald Leadership Chair in Business Administration, said business schools need to close that gap by continuously discussing ethics and character in the classroom. Continue reading

Share

Why Your Work Will Continue To Drive You Crazy

Still Crazy After All These Years

The title of that old Paul Simon song could easily describe what many people feel about life in their careers and organizations today. Studies and surveys regularly show that the workplace is damaging to many people, physically and mentally. But these reports focus on the effect rather than the cause; the surface symptoms rather than the roots of the problems men and women grapple with in their careers. The latter are found in a negative, undermining management culture and narrow, careerist values.

To explain, a few decades ago I wrote in Modern Madness about the findings of my project on how careers impact people, emotionally — especially successful careers among younger men and women rising in their companies (the yuppies of the time — remember them?). I described a troika of experiences: compromises between their personal values and the behavior required for upward movement and greater success; debilitating trade-offs between their beliefs or attitudes and the behavior necessary for continued career advancement; and — not surprisingly — anger, often severe and usually suppressed, but sometimes exploding in rage.

Back then, in the late 1980s, I found that the major source of such personal conflicts was a negative, stifling management culture. It included the personality — and sometimes the outright pathology — of bosses who created conditions that generated anxiety, depression, suspicion and other dysfunctional behavior; as well as physical illness. And this was among otherwise not-very-troubled people. I called them the “Working Wounded.”

Their conflicts were also intensified by a view of success and achievement Continue reading

Share

Overconfidence May Lead You To Incompetence

Some new research gives a new twist to the “Peter Principle” – the idea that people often rise up in their career to their level of incompetence. This study found that being overconfident can increase one’s social status, including greater power to sway others and subsequently achieve higher levels of success. However, the downside is that the overconfident person may convince themselves that they are more skilled and capable than they really are. That is, they can delude themselves and others; and be promoted beyond their actual level of competence. The research was conducted at Berkeley’s Hass School of Business, and summarized by Medical News Today in the following report: Continue reading

Share

Business Leadership Programs Ignore the Key Ingredients of Success

Leadership development and executive coaching programs have become pretty widespread in companies and organizations today, and with good reason: Positive, effective leadership is essential for success within today’s turbulent work environment. Moreover, growing your leadership skills is also necessary for successful career development in today’s workplace, where nothing is guaranteed.

But there’s a problem with these programs: Many fail to help with three crucial areas: building personal growth through self-awareness and self-examination; learning the leadership actions that increase company success in the midst of a changing workforce and fluid environment; and then, learning to align the two.

The absence of programs that really help in these areas gets reflected in periodic surveys finding that people at all levels are unhappy and dissatisfied with their work and careers. They struggle with the emotional impact of negative, unhealthy leadership that appears stuck in a 20th century mindset of top down, command-and-control.

Executive development programs typically take you through questionnaires, various exercises and “tools” to build skills and resolving roadblocks or conflicts. Many of them provide important and useful help for strengthening leaders’ knowledge and capacity for greater effectiveness in their roles. Some are provided by large consulting organizations like Right Management; others by university executive education programs, such as Harvard’s or Wharton’s. Efforts have been made to evaluate the effectiveness and scope of coaching programs, as well.

But many of them miss, on the one hand, building the necessary self-awareness of your “drivers” as a leader or manager. That is, your emotional makeup, your values and attitudes; your personality traits, and your unresolved conflicts. You’re a total person, not just a set of skills performing a role.

On the other hand, the programs often fail to incorporate current knowledge about the changing workforce, as well as the link between sustainable, socially responsible practices and long-term business or mission success. Yet bringing these two key ingredients together is the vehicle for both a thriving career and organization. Let’s look at both:

Self-Awareness and Self-Examination
Personal growth and career growth go hand-in-hand, and are the foundation for successful leadership in today’s organizations. Most successful and satisfied executives, whether at the top or on their way up, practice some form of self-awareness and self-examination. They learn to align their personal values and life goals with the kinds of leadership practices that will promote growth and development at all levels.

Becoming self-aware and orienting yourself to self-examination involves your entire mentality – that mixture of your emotions, your mental perspectives and attitudes, your values and beliefs. It includes, for example: Continue reading

Share

A New Survey Finds A Majority Of Workers Are Dissatisfied With Their Jobs

Periodically, another survey finds that many, if not the majority of people — at all levels of their work and career — are unhappy, dissatisfied or experience emotional conflicts and stress. The latest was conducted by Right Management. In my view, what’s consistently overlooked is the role that a negative, unhealthy, non-transparent management culture and leadership has upon people. The best companies are aware of that; some are making efforts to build more positive, learning-oriented, open cultures. These are of hope, especially among the younger leaders who are more in tune with these issues.

The survey was reported by Forbes, in an article by Susan Adams. She writes:

RightManagement, a subsidiary of the giant staffing firm ManpowerGroup, just released a new snapshot survey that underlines the dissatisfaction among American workers. At a time of high unemployment, lackluster job growth and major uncertainty in world financial markets, many employees feel stuck in their jobs, unable to consider a career move even if theyre unhappy.

Right Management ran the online survey between April 16 and May 15, and culled responses from 411 workers in the U.S. and Canada. Only 19% said they were satisfied with their jobs. Another 16% said they were somewhat satisfied. But the rest, nearly two-thirds of respondents, said they were not happy at work. Twenty-one percent said they were somewhat satisfied and 44% said they were unsatisfied. Saffing firms and consultants release employee engagement and loyalty surveys periodically. The news on this front has not been good for some time. In November, Ireportedon a more in-depth study, a Mercer survey of 30,000 workers worldwide, which showed that between 28% and 56% of employees in 17 spots around the globe wanted to leave their jobs. In the U.S., 32% said they wanted to find new work. Thats about half of the 65% of respondents to the Right Management survey, who said they were either somewhat or totally unsatisfied.

Whats the message to employers? A lot of unhappy workers are staying put. But if employers want an upbeat, engaged workforce, they need to find ways to help employees feel challenged and rewarded by work. A couple of suggestions: offer more training and education. Also it pays to try to find a path up the ladder for current employees, and to help them know its available to them.

Share

Feeling Obligated To Stay In Your Job? You’ll Become Emotionally Troubled

A new study published in the journal Human Relations finds that people who stay in their jobs because they feel obligated towards their employers, or don’t perceive alternatives outside their organization, are more likely to experience emotional conflict. And those who have higher self-esteem are especially affected when they perceive a lack of alternatives. These findings highlight, in my view, the ongoing problem of unhealthy leadership and management culture. A summary of the study was published in Medical News Today, and I’ve reposted it here:

Love it or leave it – if only it were that simple. According to new research from Concordia University, the Universite de Montreal and HEC Montreal, staying in an organization out of a sense of obligation or for lack of alternatives can lead to emotional exhaustion, a chronic state of physical and mental depletion resulting from continuousstressand excessive job demands.

Published in the journal Human Relations, the study found that people who stay in their organizations because they feel an obligation towards their employer are more likely to experience burnout. The same applies when employees stay because they don’t perceive employment alternatives outside their organization.

“Our study examined whether some forms of commitment to an organization could have detrimental effects, such as emotional exhaustion and, eventually, turnover,” says co-author Alexandra Panaccio, an assistant professor in the Department of Management at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business.

“When employees stay with their organization because they feel that they have no other options, explains Panaccio, “they are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion. This feeling, in turn, may lead them to leave the organization. The implication is that employers should Continue reading

Share

Why Today’s Workplace Creates Emotional Conflicts

One of the most poorly understoodthough frequently experiencedrealities of work andcareertoday is that success often takes an enormous toll on people’s emotions and overall lives. It sounds ironic, I know, but it’s true. And to the extent it’s noticed at all, the downside of success is usually assumed to be understandablestressor work-life balance problems of modern lives.

But that misses the larger problem: Career success often generates a range of emotional conflicts that affect the person, job performance and ultimately the company’s success. Conflicts range from questioning the value and worth of the toll you pay along the path to success to more troubling problems. For example, feeling constrained by long hours, work that often lacks meaning, vigilance about political conflicts that can suck you in, and frustration withmanagementpractices. More serious emotional problems include anxiety, depression and chronic physical ailments. All of the above can be triggered by successful career advancement.

Though the problem is underrecognized, it’s widespread. Periodically anew surveyappears, documenting depression in the workplace and dissatisfaction with leadership. Other research confirms that demoralization rises when work isn’t very engaging; or when opportunities for continued growth and expanding competencies are too limited or blocked. It’s time we recognize the negative psychological impact that the management culture and the “requirements” for success can have on people and the organizations they work for. They exist at great cost to both.

When I investigated and wrote about career-related conflicts this a few decades ago I found Continue reading

Share

Does Your Work Interfere With Your Life?

I often hear people tell me that they feel their work is getting in the way of their life. And they’re only partly joking. In fact, several recent research studies find that the workplace is pretty unpleasant for many people. Large numbers of men and women are severely stressed or depressed at work, often to the point of being unable to function and becoming sick, emotionally or physically. The numbers are at the highest levels, ever. Conventional explanations point to career uncertainties in today’s economy, or heavy workloads. Those are obvious contributors, but I think such explanations miss a deeper, more systemic problem that’s pervasive throughout the workplace culture of most organizations today.

In brief, it’s that management practices, the workplace relationships that result from them, and the overall business model is stuck within a 20th century mindset and worldview. And that’s dysfunctional in today’s world of chaos, interdependency, and transparency. Today, collaboration and openness are essential for generating and sustaining success, both in work and in life outside of work. The new world environment includes clear shifts in what people look for and want from their careers; and from the organizations to which they’ll commit their creative energies. These new realities are pushing companies to transform how they do business and how they treat people working within them. The push is towards supporting new learning, creative innovation, and long-term vision that promotes sustainability as well as contributes to greater well-being via the product or service.

What Happens At Work

With those emerging shifts in mind, some of the new findings shed light point to what may help support these transformations in people’s life at work and within business leadership. Consider a new survey from the consulting firm rogenSI. It reports that about 25% of the global workforce is depressed. The primary source is Continue reading

Share

Research Finds That “Nice Guys” Are Less Successful — But Is That So?

A recent study reported that “nice guys” who are “agreeable” achieve less success in their careers than those who are more rude, dominating, aggressive, hostile and dismissive of others. But is that so? I think the researchers’ findings reflect some confusion about the traits and behavior that underlie the most productive and successful careers and companies in today’s evolving workplace.

A team from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Notre Dame and the University of Western Ontario conducted the study. They surveyed people’s self-reported descriptions of their level of “agreeableness.” The researchers found that men who rated themselves “highly agreeable” earned less money than men who described themselves as less so — on average, about 18 percent less annually. The gap was found among women as well, but to a lesser degree. Regarding these findings, one of the study’s co-authors, Beth A. Livingston, concluded that “Nice guys are getting the shaft.”

But how, exactly, did the researchers define “nice” or “agreeable” in the study? Moreover, it’s notable that defined “success” solely in terms of income, and that may not be the criteria that everyone uses — especially since the post-2008 crash.

The researchers asked the participants to rate themselves along several related dimensions, such as “agreeable” vs. “quarrelsome;” “difficult” vs. “cooperative;” and “stubborn vs. flexible.” One problem with this is Continue reading

Share

Abusive Bosses And Unhealthy Management Take An Enormous Toll

“I’ll tell you what thereal problem is,” Ralph told me with a confident smile. “I’m a high-level performer. But most everyone around me – my peers, direct reports, uppermanagement – they’re incompetents, jerks, or total idiots. Take your pick.”

“This company values incompetence,” he continued. “That’s the real problem. That shows you how screwed-up it is. But they’re telling me thatI’m the problem! ThatI need help? It’s the people upstairs that need it!” He shook his head in dismay.

Sound familiar? People like Ralph are all too common in companies today. He illustrates just one type of abusive boss, often part of an overall unhealthy management culture that takes an enormous toll on both workers and business success.

In this post I describe some examples of that toll in today’sworkplace culture and point towards some ways to deal with them — ways that require something different from the usual coping andstressmanagement strategies.

You might guess, correctly, that Ralph was oblivious to the fact that his description of others was how his co-workers and subordinates described him. One of his colleagues had e-mailed him after their last encounter, saying “If you ever set foot in my office again, I’ll throw your ass right out the window.” Ralph dismissed that with a wave of his hand, saying, “That’s typical – he’s threatened by me because he knows I’m leagues beyond him. Always have been.”

Ralph is a senior executive and, in fact, a high-level performer in his company. But his abusive management and poor relationships were generating a growing chorus of complaints. To its credit, his company wanted to salvage rather than fire him, and offered him anexecutive coaching program. But Ralph saw this aspunishment.

Of course there are psychological roots to behavior like Ralph’s. But that doesn’t matter much to the people who have to deal with the consequences on a daily basis. Continue reading

Share

The GoodMakers Street Team — A Mother Watches Young Activists Empower Global Change

The following is a guest blog by Tilo Ponder, a Los Angeles based Writer/Producer of documentary films. �Tilo Ponder has spent her career as a catalyst for dynamic and integrated campaigns across all media, working with major�entertainment and consumer brands in her 20+ years of working in�the advertising agency world. Given the chance to parlay that experience into a more purposeful existence, she co-founded GoodMakers Films. �Tilo’s intense passion is�a driving force behind�GoodMakers Films,�a�non-profit organization which creates�dynamic�promotional�documentaries that empower charities to get their message�out to a�global audience. �tilo@goodmakersfilms.org

When my 21-year-old daughter suddenly left�NYU Tisch a year and a half ago and came home to Los Angeles, she didn�t really know what she was returning to do — only that she was deeply concerned about how rapidly the deteriorating economy was impacting the world around her. She reported that her college friends were feeling anxious and depressed, some of them dropping out of school as their parents, who had lost their jobs, were unable to keep up with tuition payments.� In our home, we were scrambling to keep everything going, but were committed to keeping our daughter in college, no matter what.� My husband is a�freelance commercial director, I was at an ad agency heading up production and also running our own production company. Add to this, managing investment properties in other states, shuttling our 5-year-old son to pre-school and sports activities, while also supporting an 18-year-old daughter living in Scotland and a 2-hour daily work commute — our lives were jam-packed, but worked somehow.Our daughter�s announcement that she was taking a �semester break� created unrest and an ominous feeling that a small piece of our intricately maneuvered lives were being un-wedged in a dangerous way. I secretly wondered why she couldn�t just stay put.� Having tucked her away at a good college, I had assumed that she’d be set for 4-5 years, and that afterwards she�d be on her way to a prosperous career.� I challenged her assertions that her generation was apathetic and directionless, citing how it was her generation that only a year earlier ensured our nation�s first black president because of their passionate involvement in the final days of the campaign.� My daughter�agreed on that point, but added that after so much build up to��change� and the subsequent downfall of a global economy, her�generation had even less to believe in than before.

Given that, I wasn�t prepared for what followed. Continue reading

Share

Obama’s Call to “Win the Future” Requires a New Definition of “Success”

When President Obama urged Americans to “win the future” in his recent SOTU address, he called upon the innovative, communal spirit that’s enabled us to “do great things.” Ironically, that part of his message exposes a glaring contradiction: How we’ve defined achieving “success” in our lives has become outmoded and maladaptive in our 21st Century world. To meet the challenges of our “Sputnik moment,” we need to revamp our thinking about what success is, as well as what psychological orientation is necessary to achieve it.

Consider this: The old, conventional view of a successful life is mostly defined by financial and self-interested criteria — getting, consuming and possessing for oneself. As Ronald Reagan once said about pursuing the “American dream” everyone “...wants to see an America in which people can get rich.”

But as President Obama pointed out in his address, “That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful.” The reality of today’s interconnected, highly interdependent world, greed is not good. It’s psychologically unhealthy; it undermines the values, mindset and actions people need to strengthen in order to meet the challenges we face as individuals and as a nation.

That is, our security, success and well-being now require strengthening communal values and behavior; working towards common goals, the common good. Acting on self-interest alone, especially in the pursuit of personal power, steady career advancement and money Continue reading

Share

Why The Loss Of Your Job Could Be A Gain For Your Life

As the 52 year-old man entered my office one afternoon, he asked, plaintively, “How do you start over when you can’t start over?”

He had just been let go by his company; he was devastated and frightened about the future. Despite a successful corporate career, he had no prospects in sight, and his wife’s income wasn’t enough to support the family — especially with a daughter in college and a son headed there next year.

He’s one of a rising number of people who’ve been hit hard by the recession in two ways: a forced “career transition” (the euphemism for firing), which is always difficult, and the emotional consequences of job loss, which are more severe in today’s world of uncertainty and insecurity about what the future holds.

Nevertheless, I think the career-related and emotional impact of the economic implosion could prove to be the best thing that ever happened for some people’s lives.

To explain, let’s look at the man I described above. Like so many others who’ve sought my help over the years, he had defined his worth, his value to others, his whole identity, through his career. Now he felt thrown out to sea, alone, not knowing how to “start over when you can’t start over.” In the years prior to the economic meltdown, he could have expected to land another position within a reasonable period of time. He’d probably be dealing with a manageable degree of anxiety.

But that was yesterday. The current economic recession is taking a severe emotional toll on many people: Increasing anxiety and depression, family conflicts and stress-related physical ailments. Moreover, the practical and mental health consequences of job-loss and job-seeking can be especially severe for midlifers. In fact, many are considering the possibility that they may never work again.

So how can I say that this situation could be the best thing that ever happened to someone? It’s because I’ve found Continue reading

Share

Gen X and Gen Y Workers Are Driving The New “4.0” Career

I often hear the following laments from younger and older careerists — about each other:

Younger workers: “These older people just don’t get it. They expect us to just fall into line, follow bureaucratic rules, and they don’t show us respect for what we know or what we can do.”

The older workers: “These young people just don’t understand how to function within an organization. They want recognition, promotion, everything before they’ve earned it, step-by-step, like we had to do. That’s not how reality is.”

They remind me of a couple who said about each other, “It’s not that we see things differently. It’s worse than that: We’re seeing different things!”

In a way, they are. Different career orientations are like lenses through which you view the world. In my recent post on the rise of the 4.0 career, I wrote that this shift is most visible among Generation X and Generation Y workers, but that it’s a broader movement as well, originating with baby boomers and the 60s generation who are now moving through midlife. But as the 4.0 career orientation grows, it’s also spawning the above differences in perception. In this post I describe the younger generation’s contribution to the 4.0 career transformation. It began before the economic meltdown and will continue to have an impact on organizations and personal lives in the years ahead, post-recovery.

To recap a bit, what I call the 4.0 career orientation includes but extends beyond the 3.0 career concerns that emerged in the last 20 years. The latter are about finding personally meaningful work and seeking a good work-life balance. In essence, the 3.0 careerist is focused on self-development. In contrast, the 4.0 orientation includes but also moves beyond those more personal concerns. It’s more focused on having an impact on something larger than oneself, contributing something socially useful that connects with the needs of the larger human community. The vehicle is opportunity for continuous new learning and creative innovation at work. The 4.0 orientation links with the movement towards creating successful businesses that also contribute to the solution of social problems. Continue reading

Share

Notes From Serbia: A Different Take On The Career Treadmill

The following is a guest post by Tijana Milosevic,a Belgrade-based freelance writer. Before returning to Serbia, Tijana received an MA degree from the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington DC and worked with various public diplomacy and international communications organizations in Washington. She currently lectures in media psychology and media research at Singidunum University for Media and Communications in Belgrade. Tijana was trained with the Radio Free Europe in Washington and BBC World in London. She is also the recipient of the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Award and numerous Open Society Institute scholarships. tijana.milosevic@gmail.com


Coming from Serbia — a country of six million in Eastern Europe that once belonged to a larger, war-torn entity called socialist Yugoslavia — I wasnt fully aware of the notion of career anxiety when I came to Washington DC for my MA degree. Until one evening, that is, at the very onset of the school year. A colleague of mine who was just turning twenty-seven raised his glass and voiced his fear: Twenty-seven: no serious job and no stable career track.

I was twenty- three at the time and could not comprehend why anyone would be obliged to have a career track, let alone a stable one, especially at (what I saw as) the tender age of twenty seven. In fact, I had never entertained the concept the way my American friends were referring to it.

While many Americans move out of their homes when theyre 19 to hit college, the East- European model is quite different. Countries are smaller, and if theres any migration it is directed typically towards the capital, so young people continue to live with their families through college. Because of high unemployment rates and poor standard of living, they arent expected to become financially independent, and many depend on their parents well into their late twenties or even early thirties -without a sense of shame that such state of affairs entails in the US. These factors reduce the relevance of what Americans often describe as the treadmill feel- an almost compulsive desire for continuous promotions, financial gains, followed by a rise in social status, and an increasing social anxiety.

In societies that are similar to mine, the American model is looked down upon as harsh capitalistic, individualistic and above all alienated, as American parents are not perceived to provide enough financial and emotional support for their children. In fact my family and friends had observed that I shouldnt have chosen America, since I would probably feel better in Western Europe – where life is not as fast paced as in the US and capitalism still has a human face.

For example, Americans still work nine full weeks (350 hours) longer than West Europeans do and paid vacation days across Western Europe are well above the US threshold. The French still have the 35 hour working week, while the hourly productivity is one of the highest in the world. On the other hand, in the US an increasing popularity of employment therapy suggests that a high-paying job still comes first, as job issues have a huge mental health component, and therapists emphasize the importance of toxic co-workers and the ramifications of massive layoffs.

Numerous writers have outlined the dangers of isolation and careerism in the American society. In her famous work Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt equates careerism with lack of thinking that led to Holocaust: what for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world. Genocide [] is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted.

In Serbia even young and busy corporate-minded career professionals do not have to mark their calendars to meet with close friends. One can always find the time for a spontaneous chat over coffee. Still, this laid back culture is now beginning to change with an increasing development of free market capitalism. I still remember how strange it felt when I first came to DC and had to schedule coffees and lunches with people weeks or even months in advance. I found it odd that people rarely picked up the cell phone (which, granted, could be merely my personal experience, although many Americans confirmed it!) and would often leave the time and date of the call in their voicemails, which implied the other person might not get back to them in a while. I also came to discover that what Americans often referred to as friends, people from my region would prefer to call acquaintances. The term friend cannot be reserved for someone you meet once in a couple of months and do not know well enough to open up to.

Those experiences bring to mind a memorable line from from Eat, Pray, Love, a biographical story recently turned into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Julia Roberts: You Americans know entertainment but you do not know how to enjoy yourselves, Roberts plays a successful thirty-something American who decides to embark on a soul-searching trip to Italy, India and Bally after realizing her job, husband and newly bought house are not what she really wanted from life. Perhaps thats a superficial take on what many would describe as an equally superficial Californian trend to do something spiritual, but the above quote shows theres something to the American career frenzy that remains unique to the United States. The opportunity cost for dolce far niente or the joy of doing nothing, runs high.

Reflecting on this, I ran into an interesting take on Eat Pray Love by a 23-year old blogger: We are not sympathetic to spiritual personal crises anymore. If you want to have an emotional breakdown about something, you better have a logical, elaborate and secular reason; otherwise you will be dismissed as whiny, annoying and laughable. I wonder if her comment has to do with the lack of experience or the possibility that the generation entering the work force will not have an adequate justification for its desire to escape the treadmill feel– amidst all the superficial takes on this complex topic.

Share