Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently wrote an editorial that contrasts the few workers who get good benefits and the rest who are “replaceable.” Reich notes that Netflix and some other large companies are offering better work-life balance to their employees. However, these employees are considered “talent,” people who are hard to replace. Reich says this about the rest: “Employees treat replaceable workers as costs to be cut, not as assets to be developed.” Rather than work-life balance, these people endure what Reich calls “work as life.”
Reich is not referring to low wage workers. Instead, citing a recent story in the New York Times, he is talking about Amazon and similar companies that ask employees to give up family and personal interests in the name of professional advancement. He notes that Sheryl Sandberg can advise young women to “lean in” because it makes sense from her privileged status as an executive. Some do enjoy good benefits. For most workers – even some with high incomes – the workplace generates stress and anxiety, offering little chance to live a balanced life. Once again, Reich helps us look beyond the headlines and ask critical questions about how we can manager our careers and our lives.
Of course, things could be even worse. Jan Mickelson, an Iowa talk show host, has suggested that any undocumented worker who does not leave the U.S. should become “property of the state of Iowa.” He adds that these people would be an “asset.” Was Mickelson joking? If so, the joke was vulgar. It further shows how some Americans have no respect for hard work and the people who do it. Work should be paid, not as Mickelson puts it, “compelled.”
I have a client who is very anxious to leave his current job. He works 60 hours a week and is grossly underpaid. He called me this week to discuss his job search. His problem is not uncommon: How can I find time to look for work?
In addition to his professional duties, my client and his wife have three young children. When he’s not working, he’s often driving a child to some sporting event or a sleep over. He also helps his wife with upkeep of the house, cleaning and cooking. He feels trapped and sees no way out.
I worked with him to set up a schedule for his job search. It’s not set in stone from day to day or week to week, but the target is to devote 10-15 hours each week to finding a new job. Some weeks he many only put 5 hours toward his goal. Other weeks, it might be 20 or even 25 hours. We also set a goal of 5-10 significant actions per week. This means applying for jobs, networking calls, or networking at industry events.
In most cases, the job won’t find you. It takes time, effort, and patience to make the transition, especially if you’re going to find the kind of job you really want. Hold yourself accountable. Track your time and what you are doing. If you are consistent and focused in your job search, your chances of landing the kind of job you want are very good. The first step is to manage your time and make it work for you.
I often direct readers to Seth Godin’s blog. Godin has that rare skill of capturing complex ideas in clear, concise language. Recently, he hit another home run. Rather than think of our careers as a single calling, we should talk about “caring.” Godin says we care about many things, and those forces should drive how we work. I agree. Moreover, caring lets us balance our work and our non-work lives. If a person’s work keeps her from other things she cares about, she probably should look for a new job. A good salary and the recognition from co-workers or clients are great things. But if that’s all someone has, life is, that person's life is – literally – all work and no play.
One of my clients is currently an Assistant Manager. He has been very successful in his field. Logically, his next move should be to pursue a position as a General Manager. Instead, he is going into a position in route sales and delivery. When I asked why he would do this, his reasons were all great and thoughtful. First, pay is similar for both positions. Second, he'll work fewer days and hours, which means his hourly pay will be higher. Most importantly, he'll be able to spend more time with his family, which is his priority at this time.
This story illustrates a major problem in career management: your money or your life. For many professionals, especially those pursuing careers that pay well, the sacrifice is personal time. One way to avoid this trap is to keep looking for companies that respect their employees as people. During second or third interviews, it's acceptable to ask what a typical day or week is like. You could also ask about the company's policies that promote work-life balance. Such jobs will be hard to find. Productivity has gone up and up over the last decade because too many companies are not concerned with anything except the bottom line.
Bloomberg is a great source for news. One of many things I like about the website is its focus on issues that affect working people. Today it offers five graphs that make a sad argument: “Work-life balance is dead.” First, managers in developed countries work more than 40 hours a week. Interestingly, the company listed where the fewest managers who work over 40 hours is China (19%). Second, millennials are trapped between responsibilities at work and home. Third, flexible hours are often a euphemism that gives the employer an option to keep workers on the job at any time and anywhere. Fourth, many people have stayed at their current jobs because they remember what happened in 2008. They are afraid to make a change. Finally, U.S. companies are among the worst in developed countries for giving parents time off to care for family needs.
Is work-life balance dead? Maybe. The points made in this article are very compelling in what they say about the current economy, especially for workers in their twenties and thirties. However, these conditions are neither necessary nor permanent. Working people – union and non-union – need to press federal and state legislators to pass laws that guarantee rights in the workplace. FMLA was a tepid step in that direction. On the other side of the coin, we have seen state after state cut weeks that laid off employees can collect unemployment insurance. Several states have passed “right to work” (for less) laws that hamper unions and lower wages. We need national standards to protect workers and stabilize the economy. We will not get such protection until working people vote for candidates who support labor.
I was on a tight deadline for three projects yesterday. A client called to cancel an hour long session. At first, I said this was great because it gave me more time to work. Then I looked out the window and saw a sunny beautiful day. I put on my coat and took a walk for about half an hour. Could I have spent that time working? Sure. But I also know that in a month it will be a lot colder. In two months, I will probably be shoveling snow.
What’s my point? Take some time to do what makes you happy. Even with my break, I met all of my deadlines and still got to spend some time enjoying the sun. Plan your time well, and find a way to do something that makes you happy. Life’s too short to let it be all work and worry.
Huffington Post offers an interesting blog post from Dharmesh Shah, the CTO of of HubSpot. Shah says “you should never leave work on time.” His point is that many people work at jobs that are boring and make them watch the clock. I agree with him that a good job should be part of our life, that we should stay at work sometimes to meet a late deadline or to help a co-worker.
However, I think this good advice can have a negative side as well. Many people I know never leave work at their schedule time. Their schedule is open-ended. They take work home and come to the office on the weekends. Even if they love their job, there is too much work because many companies have come to think that the secret to productivity is under staffing.
Life needs balance. Too often now, the balance is weighted in favor of the employer. A writer I greatly admire, Seth Godin, has said things similar to Shah. As an entrepreneur, I agree with them. I frequently work late and often am in the office seven days a week. However, that is my choice. For many employees, the company they work for asks for more and more. In these cases, I strongly disagree with Shah. Too many people are carrying their jobs home in a way that destroys lives and family. Employers and employees both need to recognize that work is part of life, but not all of it. There is a time to leave work and start living.
Have you ever quit a job or declined to take a promotion because you felt you were going in the wrong direction? A few of my clients have. Most, however, follow a path set for them by their employer. They are passive in following a path that is meant to do what is best for the company.
I met a client today, we’ll call her Jane, who didn’t follow her employer’s path. She achieved a high level of success in technical sales, and her employer wanted to assign her to a key account. The good news would be that her salary would have $100,000. However, Jane had just gotten married and wanted to have a family. She declined the promotion, quit her job, and started a business she has run for the last 8 years.
Now Jane is looking to return to corporate America. A few employers will not hire her because she has not worked in a corporate role. Others will look at her career and see someone who has corporate experience and entrepreneurial success. Jane took charge of her career and now is making another change that serves her goals, not simply doing what is best for her employer.
I often cite the writer Seth Godin. One of his favorite mottoes is to “draw your own map.” I can’t think of better advice for career success. There will be obstacles and diversions as we plan where we want to go. The alternative is to do what someone else wants to you do. That can be the path to a good income and a fancy title, but it’s just as often a road to frustration. Do what makes you happy and lets you live the life you want. Do it thoughtfully and strategically. Make the map you own.
Think Progress reports on Treehouse, an online education company that only works 4 days a week. Company founder Ryan Carson was working 7 days a week on a new start up. He made a decision that life was as important as work and instituted a 4 day work schedule for all employees. Treehouse is one of Carson’s 3 companies that follow the 4 day work week model. Some experts think this kind of work model improves performance while working more (60 hour weeks) hurts productivity. Time will tell if more companies follow Carson’s model – if he can even sustain it with his companies. The first step is to try. Three cheers to Ryan Carson for remembering that life is not all work.
One of my clients, let’s call him Jim, came to see me about a career change. Jim has had a very successful career in sales, but feels burnt out. He also wants to get off the road and spend more time with his family. We discussed his options for career change. Given his industry expertise and background in sales, it would be natural for Jim to pursue a new career in purchasing. He was excited by that option.
Here’s the problem that leads to hard choices: If he pursues a career in purchasing, Jim is likely to face a big cut in salary, as much as $50,000. Against this, he has to weigh time away from his family and the pressure that comes with a six-figure sales position. What should Jim do? I rose the questions, but didn’t have a good answer. When we make career changes to improve quality of life, one of the challenges is often working for a lower salary. Jim is weighing his options with his wife. His story is one many people are facing today. The choices aren’t easy.
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