We’ve been conditioned to believe that you must “love” your job to be successful.
Workers are inundated with quotes about how if you find something you love, you’ll never work another day in your life. People are writing about how they turned their hobby into their career, or even producing commercials about it. Clearly, if you don’t have a love affair with your work, is it even worth living?
Work these days is more like a middle school dance – lots of pent-up excitement, some awkwardness and anxiety, and ultimately more of us left on the bleachers than the dance floor. As we ride in the back of our metaphorical car home, more and more workers have decided that their job is just that – a job. With resignations spiking towards the end of last year, and companies lamenting the difficulty in filling their open positions, it’s clear that pouring your entire soul into your work is neither popular nor healthy.
Workers frankly aren’t too surprised by the current state. After all, companies have a reputation of being a fickle partner. Every state (except Montana) has at-will employment, meaning a worker can be fired whenever the organization so chooses. There are a few exceptions, and any HR or employment law professional will caution leaders to have documentation and cause, but the overall message is that employees serve at the pleasure of the company. The perception of permanency and security is often a false flag, and the 500,000 individuals who created their own LLCs in the US last year agree.
The reality is that while you may love your job, it is likely unrequited. That doesn’t mean your manager doesn’t value you. It doesn’t mean your work isn’t meaningful, or that you don’t play an important role in the success of your team. It doesn’t mean lasting or even lifelong relationships cannot be built in your work life. It just means that an organization is incapable of loving you. It’s an entity, not a person.
None of this means the working relationship is doomed to fail. It simply means both parties need to set expectations and decide how much each is willing to give to the relationship to make it successful. If that sounds a little too much like how we talk about couples, that’s because the level of emotion is similar. In my role, I’m often serving as a sort of couples’ therapist for companies (leadership) and employees trying to work things out. I hear phrases like “I’ve given this company so many years of my life,” against “don’t these employees understand that we can only give so much,” and other sentiments that wouldn’t be out of place in a heated argument with a significant other.
That’s a lot of energy lost on a dynamic that may get incrementally better but will still be fundamentally unbalanced. Often, the only leverage the worker has is to leave, which may make it better for that person, but will most likely leave the organization unchanged.
If we’ve learned nothing else the past two years, we need to reprioritize how we spend our energy. I know that I have searched for ways to set more boundaries in my day. I’ve also worked with my team to find ways to protect their time, including paid shutdowns and encouraging everyone to take time off to recharge. I hope that my team loves the work they do and I’m perfectly okay with them NOT making their job their number one priority in life. Honestly, I just want them to be happy and am thrilled that they’ve elected to spend their days with our firm.
As society continues to navigate changes in how work gets done, it will also need to reconcile its relationship with work in general. The hustle culture is dead. Self-care is front and center. Somewhere in the middle is the need to make enough money to live without sacrificing emotional and physical health.
And I think that’s a good starting place for a healthy relationship.
With warm regards,
— Mark Stelzner
Founder/Managing Principal/Relationship Counselor, IA