Be honest, now. Are you seriously and selflessly dedicated to your job? Are you willing to always be there for your employer, even if that means working after hours, on weekends, or being on-call 24/7? If you are, you are not in the minority.
According to research published in this month’s Harvard Business Review, the number of employees falling into the “ideal” category is up to 43% among the companies studied. More so now than ever, the drive for money and market share defines corporate culture, and employees are expected to put in as much time as it takes to rise above the competition. No surprise the majority of individuals I’m privy to interview prior to my keynote programs are stressed out and feeling disconnected.
The pressure to give your all to your job, documented in depth at such places as tech start-ups, investment banks, and medical organizations, reflects the worldwide big-business belief that any suggestion of meaningful outside interests and commitments signals an employee’s lack of fitness for the job. The problem is, like any regimen forcing a long-term, non-organic structure on human beings, employees who prioritize work above other parts of their lives – such as parenting, fulfilling personal needs, and attending to their health – can pay a huge price in life satisfaction and quality.
How Do We Cope with the Pressure?
Studies show that people in high-pressure workplaces basically rely on three strategies to survive. The first strategy is accepting, or simply conforming to the ideal worker criteria. Another strategy is passing for an ideal employee. Passers quietly find ways to fit in non-work activities, but do this under the company radar so that they are still viewed by their employer as ideal workers. The third strategy is revealing, or being open about outside activities while pushing for more accommodation to this within the company structure.
If you’re a “cog in the wheel” of a time-hungry corporation, what is your strategy? Unfortunately, each one has a downside. Accepters frequently make huge sacrifices to their personal fulfillment, health, and overall happiness. Passers must maintain a false identity while on the job, leading to stress, anxiety, and resentment resulting from the energy this takes (not to mention they perpetuate the high-demand culture). Revealers take a toll professionally for their honesty, evidenced by numerous studies showing that this group is subject to poorer performance ratings, less chance of being promoted, and in many cases, termination.
Greater Connection + Speaking Your Truth = Better Employee
Research also indicates that if employees were allowed to openly express their authentic, multi-faceted selves – i.e. speak their truth – there would be greater connection and more open relationships among all, no matter what level they occupy in the corporate structure. This more natural, transparent atmosphere has been shown to lessen overall stress, resulting in more creative, energized, and productive workers.
Changing how corporations define an “ideal worker” would seem daunting, to say the least. Although new thinking requires support from company leaders, some ideas can be put into practice at the team level, according to analysts. Defining our various roles – for example, an administrative assistant, parent, skiing enthusiast, and scrapbooking hobbyist – can give us a variety of sources of fulfillment, so that we’re not “putting all our eggs into one basket” in terms of gratification. If things go wrong at work, we have other sources of positive emotional input to counteract the disappointment.
Supervisors and team leaders should also consider tying incentives to goal attainment rather than time investment. Protecting employees’ off-work hours and vacation time by backing company policies in favor of this is another way lower-level managers can be proactive.
Think how good you feel when you’re actually allowed and supported in being who you truly are, whether at a planning session for your upcoming mountain bike trip, a family discussion, or your sales team’s quarterly kick-off. When you are valued for all your areas of passion, including your job, doesn’t that make you want to shine even brighter in each one?