What would it take to be excited about going to work each and every day?
Part 1 of 4 part series
I have a good friend who has a senior position in the human resources department of one of the world’s biggest companies. Whatever there is to know about corporate culture, he understands it pretty well.
Recently my friend went on vacation to England with his wife. While walking through the streets of London, they came upon the famous statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, in Victoria Tower Gardens. She was the woman most instrumental in the Suffragette movement. Suddenly my friend had an epiphany. “Wow,” he said to his wife, “That was less than 100 years ago.” Women got limited voting rights in England in 1918, and did not get full rights until 1928. In the US it was 1920. That means that 100 years ago the common consensus in the Western world was that women did not have the intelligence to make political choices. 100 years! That’s not very long. Today, it would be completely outrageous to make such a suggestion, almost anywhere in the world. What was commonly accepted a few generations back, today seems completely ridiculous.
“The same thing is true with slavery, which was finally abolished in the United States in 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War,” my friend continued. “That’s 150 years. Think about it: 150 years ago there were people living in the United States of America who considered it normal for people with white skins to buy and sell other people with black skins.” Back at that time, both the slave owners and the slaves accepted that this situation was normal. Today, although pockets of slavery certainly still remain, it is commonly understood to be an outrageous and completely unacceptable condition.
“The list goes on and on,” my friend reflected. Blood leaching, imprisonment for homosexuality, segregation of gender and color in schools, there are so many things that seemed quite normal to our grandparents or great-grandparents, that would seem completely insane today. It is actually encouraging, in a world that often seems so out of balance. It is is reassuring proof of evolution.
So my good friend, who remember is steeped in corporate culture, went on to reflect on an important question. “What is it that we commonly accept today, in 2014, that in 30 or 40 years we may consider to be completely crazy? What will our children or grandchildren look back at and say ‘I can’t believe that anybody actually believed that, or tolerated it’?”
Of course there are many things out of balance in the world today: economic disparity, the degradation of the environment, political feuding, you know the list.
My friend didn’t hold out so much hope that the beliefs that hold some of those things together would be abandoned within a generation, but he did have a clear idea about one next great breakthrough into sanity for humankind.
“I think that the next glass ceiling for us to break through will be the way that we go to work,” he said. I think that within a generation we are going to look back on the way that we view work today and see it is archaic, unethical, and completely unnecessary.”
He went on to explain. Most people, he said, work for companies, whether for profit, nonprofit or governmental organizations. The average person is at work for about nine hours a day, including the lunch break. Lunchtime for many people still carries the work environment along with it. Although significantly less than 10 years ago, most people still drive to and from work, which can actually extend the time away from home in work-related mode to eleven hours a day. Then you need to factor in time taken to prepare for work in the morning, and time taken to unwind from work in the evening. That’s most of the day, it means that, besides the hours spent sleeping and eating, most of the rest of the time is work-related. Vacation time in Europe is significantly greater than in the United States (six weeks compared to two weeks). Those in managerial or more senior positions these days are actually expected to take a laptop with them on vacation, and to remain in touch: you are not expected to completely cutoff.
So what this boils down to is that if your work somehow sucks, or is draining, or uninspiring, it really actually means that your life also sucks, is draining, and is uninspiring. For many people this may be true from when they leave university to the time they “retire.”
In a nutshell: the quality of your work pretty much determines the quality of your life.
My friend went on to summarize some of the basic assumptions which he hears today about the nature of work. He listed quite a few of them, and they were all worthy of reflection and re-examination. Here were the top five:
“I have to put up with things that I don’t like in order to get money to pay for the things that I want.”
“I often have to put up with feeling humiliated, or being treated in a disrespectful way by people more senior than me in the company. There’s nothing I can do about this, it’s just normal in the workplace.”
“Going to work is inherently stressful: it’s something I have to recover from at the end of the day. It’s not like doing a project at home, or going camping with my friends which gives me energy. Going to work takes away energy: it is draining.”
“If I suddenly won or inherited a few million dollars, I would quit my job the next day. I only do what I do at work to pay for my lifestyle. I wouldn’t choose to do it otherwise.”
“It is normal in the workplace for people to be compensated differently for the work they do, not based on their level of skill or contribution, but also based on their gender, ethnicity, age, or geographical location. This is also considered normal and something to accept.”
As we got ready to finish our conversation together, my friend seem to be sitting in an interesting mixture of pessimism, cynicism, and an intuition of a saner way to do things. He’s not alone in this. Just like Emeline Pankhurst was not alone in recognizing the absurdity of thinking that women cannot make political choices, just like Abraham Lincoln was not alone in seeing the absurdity of owning other human beings as slaves, so my friend is not alone in seeing that the way we work is due a major overhaul.
This blog post is the first of four in a series.
In Part Two I’m going to introduce you to, and review, a brilliant new book which addresses new possibilities within organizations. It’s called Reinventing Organizations by Frederick Laloux.
In Part Three I’m going to share with you the work that we have been doing with Awakening Coaching all over the world to bring innovation to individuals working within corporations. I’m going to tell you why I think that everything that has been tried so far is not enough: we need a reboot that is much more thorough and “out of the box.”
In Part Four I’m going to report to you on the six reliable, repeatable, steps which can bring forth brilliance within a human being, and allow them to experience the workplace something like a martial arts Dojo where they can practice their skills at being brilliant.