Is Your Job Killing You?
I always enjoy Jeffrey Pfeffer’s books, (Power, Leadership B.S.), for the research-backed approach he takes with his topics. In his latest book, Dying for a Paycheck, Pfeffer offers a compelling case for what many of us sense: our work is making us ill. Or, more specifically, the management behaviors and practices in many environments are so toxic that survival places demands on us that take a significant toll, physically and emotionally.
Of course, the question is what can you do about the situation?
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times: For much of the past year, my coaching practice has been weighted heavily on what I describe as career reinvention. Clients have been seeking me out for help in moving beyond their current roles, jobs and toxic environments. (I contrast career reinvention with a job change, where an individual changes organizations in a like-kind role.)
It turns out, based on the number of individuals attending my webinar (replay) on career reinvention, there’s a lot of us quietly contemplating and even plotting an escape.
Sure, one hopes that time and enlightenment will reverse the situation characterized by Pfeffer, however, if it happens, it will be a slow, evolutionary process.
For many individuals, particularly those with two or more decades of experience, time is wealth, and it’s a decaying asset. There’s an urgency to do something more in an environment free of the toxicity of the pointy-haired bosses so effectively characterized in the Dilbert comic strips.
In almost every situation, my coaching clients are motivated by several key drives:
- The desire to move beyond a toxic working environment.
- A need to discover or rediscover themselves at their professional best.
- The need to serve others and help by drawing upon the experiences and accrued wisdom garnered over the decades.
- A need to control their financial fate.
- A drive to directly connect financial reward to their efforts, ideas, and output.
It’s this last one, and the issue of income, that for me is one of the most interesting.
Reality, Money, and Fear
The money topic is the one that generates fear. That and health insurance, which are two sides of the same coin these days.
You would be excused if you assumed anyone seeking to do something so lofty as reinvent themselves in their career was in a position to not worry about income. My experience shows this is not the case. Everyone I’ve engaged thus far is motivated to avoid income interruptus during the reinvention process.
Some are willing to settle for a smaller paycheck and are adjusting expenses to accommodate this possibility.
Most clients have families, dependents and obligations, and a vow of poverty is not part of their reinvention process.
The other side of this issue is that no one I am working with has fallen victim to the get-rich-quick school of pipe dreams. These are individuals not looking for the mythical quick solution, but rather willing to do the hard work to build a practice, create a platform, and engage others who care about what they are doing and offering. They want to provide value to create value for themselves and others.
Managing the money issue and risk as part of the career reinvention process involves a bit of parallel tracking. The steps I take people through (outlined in detail in: The Six Stages of Career Reinvention) include determination, self-discovery, exploration, experimentation, conditioning, and launch. All of these steps, up until launch, are navigated over time and while gainfully employed. And in some circumstances, even launch is possible while employed in your day job.
Parallel tracking the day job with the steps of the reinvention process takes time, commitment, and a willingness to make trade-offs. Binging on Netflix is expendable. Getting to the gym and working on your health is not. Balancing family commitments demands great communication and support from a partner. It’s not easy, but it is achievable.
A Surprising Dividend
Perhaps the most significant unexpected dividend people report from the work of parallel tracking their day job with the process of defining and finding “next” has been the acknowledgment that work is no longer so miserable. The day job becomes tolerable—the toxic boss more of a cartoon character, and relationships with colleagues more valued.
Deliberate work on defining and striving for control of your career offers hope, and it’s this hope that allows you to recognize the work, and the boss, are less important and not worth your emotional and physical health. Beginning the process of taking control of your career and life may be the best antidote to a workplace that views you as an expendable machine part.
There’s nothing easy about the work of career reinvention. Even when you succeed, the rigors of running a business or operating in a new arena are always with you. This may be the most difficult work you’ve taken on in your career. It’s also exhilarating, liberating, and ultimately, potentially the healthiest thing you will ever do for yourself. When are you going to get started reclaiming your career?
Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. He writes the Leadership Caffeine blog.