The lost meaning of our (professional) life

First story

Not so long ago, I met a young and intelligent lady working as a student in a big organisation. A Monday morning, she was tasked to review the translation of some official documents. Around 10.30, she was already nearly laying on her keyboard, her head between her hands, whispering that she wanted to be on Friday. Not because she had a special event planned, just because she wanted this week to end.

If you compare her to other students having a holiday job, she was supposed to be lucky as she was actually doing the job she was studying for instead of counting hardware pieces in a store or delivering mail.

At some point we started a discussion and I took the opportunity to ask her:

– What are you gonna do with your life?

– Translator, she answered.

– You are here, doing the job you are preparing yourself to do the rest of your life and after one week, the only thing you can think about is not doing it. Are you sure it is what you want to do with your life?

– It is all I can do!

– Is is what you think or is it what it is? Which evidence do you have?

– None, but I don’t know what else to do!

– Maybe you should figure out that first?

Obviously, it is not the only thing she’s good at and it is not what she really want to do in her life. But somewhere, she became convinced that she had to follow this path and that it was the only one possible. At around 20, she was already in autopilot mode, following a path that is not her but the one her environment offered her.

A few days later she came to me and told me that she will use her time abroad (she was going to study abroad for a few months) to discover what she really wants to do.

 Second story

In a rock festival, I discovered a Belgian New Orleans’ jazz band called Big Noise. The 4 musicians played like if they were possessed or in transe. The drummer was so into it, playing an “infernal swing” that he looked like he was drunk or on drugs. But, evidently, his drug was his pleasure to play. To play music, to play whit friends, with the audience, to have fun, a lot of fun. And the public was seduced, sharing the nearly shamanic transe, powered by the music and the magic of this group sharing the same love for music. From where I stood, at that moment, they had the best job in the world, the one making them happy.

Third story

I discovered recently the new Aaron Sorkin TV show called “The Newsroom”. The series is set behind the scenes at the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN) and centers around the team of idealistic journalists working for the news, seeking the truth and aiming to educate their audience. As it was the case before with “West wing”, Sorkin’s wrote again some of the most intelligent scenarios and dialogs ever. I was captivated by the show and found myself excited by each episode. As images of the series where present in my mind the next day, I wondered what was so appealing to me in the show. Obviously, I was probably projecting myself (in the Freudian acceptance of the term) in the show. Something was talking to me. But what? Fortunately, meditation helps a lot to make your mind clear and it became rapidly evident to me that it was the commitment of the characters and their values that was stimulating my soul. These characters are devoted to their work, or, should I say, to their cause. In fact, they don’t work, they do something they believe in it, they live their passion and they stick to their values. They are committed to their life, not someone else’s life.

 Last story

More than a decade ago, I was running a company with my associates and, at the same time, I was coaching young children from 5 to 7 years old to teach them how to swim. Surprisingly, although my daily job was very interesting and I was successful at it, I happen to wait all the week for this moment, on Fridays, when I was in the water, teaching those kids how to float, dive, breath or jump into the water. At first, I tried to ignored this and managed to have so busy weeks that I couldn’t even think about it or anything else than my work and my occupations. Fortunately, at some point, my mind or my body (or both as they are one) found a way to pass the message. And it was clear: something was going wrong in my apparently picture perfect life. Unfortunately, the root cause of this “unhappiness” was not as evident. As I didn’t understood at the time what was laking me unhappy, I started to change nearly all aspects of my life, private and professional. During the process, I was lucky enough, as I often am, to cross the road of wonderful beings that helped me to understand what was missing in my life. At a bit more than 30 years old, I decided to go back studying and found myself on the way to the University to pursue a master in Psychology. It was a very long journey during which I continued to search for the meaning of my life as a sense on “un-achievement” was still haunting my mind. It took me a while, and a lot of these blessed encounters with wonderful people (sometimes through books, sometimes during a very short time or sometimes for a long lasting and beautiful journey) to understand that the meaning of my life was not the goal, the end of the road, but the road itself. I found my direction, my path, my identity as I was able to accept myself as I am, with my paradoxes and my weaknesses as much as with my strengths and my values. I finally understood the true meaning of Steve Jobs saying, in his 2005 Stanford commencement ceremony address: “for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: « If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? » And whenever the answer has been « No » for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” or the “Carpe Diem” from Dead’s poets society. I discovered my values and found my balance to integrate all aspects of my life. Writing this, even if you are just a few hundred to read it, should it even be only one person, is a part of it. I

 Epilogue

Our society is very good at picturing a way of life and making us believe that we must fit into this scheme. Unfortunately, in some aspects, our society has lost her values, or, to be more accurate, I cannot recognise myself in some of these values and, maybe, you don’t either. As Jiddu Krishnamurti once said: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” And unfortunately, our society and most corporations, are so complex that it become difficult to understand what is the goal, the meaning and the role we have to play. And the pace imposed by our “modern” way of life do not often leave time to think about our values, our dreams, our expectations. We must be artists, philosophes or even fools to dare thinking about our purpose, the meaning of our lives or, more simply, what really matters for us, deeply inside. “Stay hungry, stay foolish” was the closing sentence of Jobs’ 2005 speech. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives. We can be foolish too for this commencement. We can demand the meaningful life we deserve. It is often not so far from where we stand. A few centimetres close even. It is not necessary to change everything, we can just change what is not in line with our values, with the direction we want to take.

According to recent studies, people with a purpose in their life, with a meaning, are happier and are also in better physical condition (less stressed). Corporation, society, should think about the meaning of what they do and the meaning of what their people do. If everyone could find a true meaning (money is obviously not one, as such) at what it does for leaving, nobody would have to work anymore, or at least, we would not have to call it labour because it wouldn’t be labourious anymore.

 

Stay foolish!

 

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

Is happiness at work a security concern?

A recent Gallup report estimates the cost of absenteeism due to depression to 28 billion US dollars. It is not the first report nor the first time a link is made between depression (and consequently  happiness)  and absenteeism at work (and it direct and indirect costs). If we extrapolate these numbers for an average company of a 1000 employees, we will have, on average, 60 employees (we use de more conservative numbers and consider only people actually diagnosed and in treatment) suffering from depression having each an average of 4,3 additional days of absenteeism (the more conservative number) with a cost of 250€ per day (conservative currency conversion). If we do the math: 60 x 4,3 x 250€= 64.400,-€ per year just for absenteeism (likely to be twice the cost and to have an additional cost for loss of productivity as it was estimated by other studies).

In terms of risk management, for most large corporate of 1000 employees (or more), 65.000€ is not a number big enough to be a major concern (even if you triple the figure, what could be a more realistic estimate of the cost for large european companies, even more in Belgium where salary costs are extremely high) for risk managers. However, the financial, operational and human benefits of having happier employees might not be ignored as « happy » companies seems to have higher productivity, client satisfaction and revenue than others « less happy » organization.

Nevertheless, we do believe it is a wrong question to ask. In order to succeed, engaging an organization into a « happiness at work » journey should be a human decision based on a true believes, on inner values from senior management . Doing the things right should be the main purpose. Return on investment will « only » be the cherry on the cake.

Pets at work to reduce stress

A study of the Virginia Commonwealth University shows a more than significant reduction of the blood’s cortisol level (an indicator of stress level) of people bringing their dog at work compared than the one who don’t bring it or don’t have one. More than just reducing the stress level, it also seems to ease relationship and human interactions. Why don’t we see more often pet in workspaces? I may see potential downturns (beatings, barking, smell, and other stuffs) but it must be possible to find a good compromise (is it not a Belgian specialty?)

The related NY Times article: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/30/health/la-he-pets-at-work-stress-20120331

Altruism is contagious and might bring you happiness

Many studies clearly indicates that altruism is a key element of happiness. Many enterprises have understood this and have create corporate social responsability programs to support altruistic actions. If you should had the chance to win at the lottery, you’ll had better chances to be happy if you spend your money for others than yourself. Being empathic is a key factor of social success. In fact, taking care of each other is most likely to be deeply anchored in our nature. We are basicaly good people, we just need to let it be more often. And, best of all, it might be contagious.

We should continue to foster selflessness and good actions in our private as well as in our work life. Caring for people around us makes our lafes happier.

I found this beautiful video on YouTube. It is not clear if it is the official videoclip for the music of Noah & The Wale « Give a little love » but the music fit perfectly to the video and it is very inspirationnal.

Enjoy!

Who don’t need arbejdsglaede?

Arbejdsglaede is the nordic word for Happiness at work. The video below is a nice animation from Alexander Kjerulf on arbejdsglaede (= Happiness at work). It is fun and accurate.

You can also visit the related website with videos of happy people at work! http://whattheheckisarbejdsglaede.com/

As cherry on the cake, a video that shamm make you smile, as it is all that this prince of positivism is aiming at:
Honk if you love someone

No training is (often) bad training

When we talk about training, it is common to ear that they should be given on purpose. The purpose being « doing a better job ». Likely, when someone need a specific skill she/he doesn’t have yet, it is often when we can demonstrate a Return on Investment that he/she will be sent in training.

This is quite black or white. To be or not to be skilled! In real life, people may have partial skills, or a minimal level of proficiency in a skill. Sometimes they believe they have the skill and as you might know, the worse thing than not having a quality is believing you have it (so you are certain you will never get it).

Nowadays, creating documents is not the sole tasks of secretary. They don’t exist as such anymore, they are Personal Assistant. Why, because most people, including managers, create and type their documents by themselves. Reports, emails, presentations, spreadsheets, who isn’t working with those beautiful office tools? Which percentage of users are sufficiently skilled to use these tools efficiently? In 2012, I still have seen manually generated table of contents in large documents, titles underlined using underscores, mistakes in spreadsheets due to lack of knowledge of the tools or surcharged presentation missing their primary objective: convince people. OK, they are just loosing time and efficiency. As time and efficiency are money, companies are just loosing money due to the lack of training. Is it so bad? No, if you can train them now and stop loosing money.

Though, as Jack Zenger underlined it in his article « We wait too long to train our leaders« , no training is bad training, even more for soft skills. Why? Even if you are not trained, you do practice and practicing bad behaviors is fostering bad habits. With spreadsheets and word processors, it can be corrected easily. But, when it comes to soft skills, to human interactions, it is another challenge to correct bad habits. Moreover, if a manager is a lousy communicator, improving his listening and communication skills will not be the only challenge. Having his staff letting him the chance to use his new skills, to trust him might take some time. In the meantime, as you must know, your employees are living their bad managers, even if you, as a company, are proposing attractive salary or bonuses.

Most managers I know have difficulties to manage people. Budgets, programs, projects, objectives, board seems to be somehow difficult but still manageable. People? No thank you. Conflicts, competition, motivation, expectancies, turnover, headhunter recruiting your best elements, stress, emotions management… it is not an easy task to manage human. In fact, you don’t manage them, you can just love them (or hate them, but its seems less efficient). Nevertheless, as a recent article in Le Monde was pointing out: more and more managers don’t want to be managers anymore. Companies are then loosing good employees and managers.

Of course, universities and management schools don’t prepare well to this task. Even with a degree in psychology, you won’t be ready to be a manager. Of course you have natural born managers. Some of them even became great leaders and created their own companies. But, what will the 98 other procent do?

Yes, we can train them. In fact, you MUST train them. Not tommorow when they will come to you nearly burned out. No, today! Now!

But how? What do they need? After more than a couple of decade spent working for companies and organization of all sizes, I still have the feeling that, before being bad communicators, a lot of managers are bad listeners. Too often also, we find narcissistic managers, lacking empathy, certainly a good quality to find amongst leaders. Above stress management, emotion management should be also a good skill to develop. (see Daniel Goleman video below for more insight around the emotional intelligence and leadership). Being mindful does certainly helps too. A manager able to stop, take time, take some distance, will likely be more available for his collaborators, to be more creative, to listen. Honnesty, integrity is also something you expect from Managers, as you certainly already do. Nevertheless, this honnesty must encompass his relationship with all the employee. He should not be put in such position by the organization that he cannot be honnest with them (I already wrote on Corporate values, I will certainly come back to this soon).

So, to summarize, inmy top 5 of soft skills a manager should have:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Mindfulness
  • Emmotional intelligence
  • Honnesty

As these 5 skills are thightly bound together,  you might look for some holistic approach. Of course, higher in the hierarchy you start, the better.

 

Additional reading (external):

The Value of a Good Manager? People Leave Managers Not Companies!

Forbes.com: Why your employee are living?

Daniel Goleman « Social Intelligence and Leadership » sur Harvard Business Publishing on YouTube

What motivates us?

Here is a link to a animated video of Dan Pink, author of the famous book on motivation, « drive ». If there is just one thing to remind from this speech it is that you should not consider your employees as horse that need to be motivated but just let them do their job. If you think they don’t do it right, teach them, train them, give them the freedom to improve themself, to master their work. It will cost you less money at the end, be more efficient and will provide more satisfaction to your employees. In return, they will be more engaged, be more likely to stay within your company and be more productive.

Think in terms of implicit communication: If you have to pay them more to do their job, the implicit reason is that their job is so boring that it requires higher reward. If you don’t pay much, it must be fun. Even if the job is not boring in itself, you imply somehow that it is.

So, don’t try to control their work, just let them improve themself because they want to. Foster their desire to master, nurture it. Provide the right environment. Be a cultivator. You don’t require to your plant to grow faster or better, you just provide the right food, water and good spot with light. You control the conditions that allows your plants to grow. Why do we try to do otherwise with people? They are not plants? Of course, but they just want to grow.

Happiness at work, a path to success

In an AOL jobs article, Alexander Kjerulf propose 5 easy tips to make your work life happier. He reminds us that happiness at work is important for employees as it is most likely the activity to which we give the more time per week, because it is also good for our health (A Gallup’s report clearly indicates the possible huge financial benefits of having happier employees as they will be less sick and less prone to switch employers) and also because it will lead to success.

This last point is also supported by a 2005 scientific article of Lyubomirsky & King, « The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? » in which the autors suggested that evidences indicates that it is happiness that creates conditions to success and not only the successes that makes people happy (although their is also a positive spiral effect here).
Many successful leaders (Jobs, Branson, Hsieh,…) have often repeat that they never worked as they always did what is a passion to them. They were not looking for success at first but more to make what was making sense to them. At the same time, such mindset creates better condition for success as you will likely not be devastated by your failures to the same extent as your goal is not to reach a result but more to do what you like. It is the same difference like between the optimalist and the perfectionnist (if I refer to Tal Ben- Shahar definition in his book « Pursuit of Perfect« ), you will enjoy the path to success instead of waiting the success to be enjoyed.