Corporate Life and Personal Health – Is it a Trade-off?

Some time ago, my husband forwarded the following article to me: Half of Millenials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their jobs for mental health issues. The article details a couple reasons they believe this is happening, including increased use of smartphones which decreases face-to-face interactions and increases exposure to negative world events, and an increase in younger folks feeling of being lost.

This came up in our conversation because I had been noticing a trend in my research project. As I spoke to more and more women, I was hearing story after story of women feeling compelled to leave corporate America in order to take control of their health.

The stories I heard were not only to do with mental health; sometimes physical health was the major issue at hand. Regardless, these women did not feel there was a way to solve their individual issues while maintaining their careers. At least, not the way they were going.

I want to be clear – most of these women did not blame their work, their corporate environment, or anything else of that nature. Most often, they took their inability to manage their current health situation on themselves.

One woman, diagnosed with fibromyalgia while at work, described herself as addicted to work. She shared stories of working at all hours of the day, never being off the clock, taking laptop and phone with her on vacations. She was simply unable to stop working, and this was having a negative effect on her ability to deal with her new diagnosis.

She did not necessarily feel that her work demanded this kind of attention from her. In fact, she was sometimes encouraged to take time off, to relax, to not work quite so hard.

Another woman shared a similar story. She was suffering from crippling anxiety, and yet kept pushing and pushing herself at work. In fact, she was working so hard, she was unable to see to the (negative) effect it was having on her work, and in the end was asked to leave a company where previously she had been a fast-tracked star.

Other phrases I have heard: “If I didn’t leave, I was going to lose my mind.” “My health was suffering significantly. If I didn’t change something quick, something bad was going to happen.” “I know I needed to take care of myself, and I just couldn’t figure out how to do that.”

Another woman brought to my attention the idea and research theme of corporate PTSD, or as one author calls it, CTSD (Corporate Traumatic Stress Disorder). If you get a chance, look it up. It explains why, among many other things, so many people pass away so quickly after retirement.

What in the world is going on here? I have been in the same situation myself – this is what prompted me to write the blog post Why You Workaholics Should Go Home and Take The Day Off! I was feeling the same types of stress.

While any particular manager may not be asking us to work around the clock (although I have known managers who do – one in particular was notable for saying, “The REAL work doesn’t start until 6pm!”), it must be something in the corporate culture that is asking us to sacrifice in this way.

I realize this is not something particular to women, although I do worry that it might be affecting us to a greater extent. I explored some of the reasons for this recently in my post on the lack of female mentors – successful women have a hard time saying “no.”

It must be that this kind of behavior is rewarded. I know I had a boss at one point who judged everyone on “face time” – or the amount of time they spent in the office. At the very least, he judged people negatively if they weren’t around when he went looking for them. It is fortunate for us all that he retired before we introduced the work-from-home policy!

So how do we fix this? I think all of the corporate HR programs that support mental and physical health are a start. We need to have confidential ways to deal with the stress and anxiety any job can give us. Health insurance incentives to address weight, blood pressure, blood sugar issues can help.

But these will only go so far. What companies really need to do is to change their culture. We need to stop rewarding people for “face time” (I mean really, are people actually more productive just because they are in the office longer? I think not). We need to see our employees as the valuable resources they are, and care about their health as much as their families do.

Only by changing the culture, by rewarding behavior that brings long-term results, will we build companies of physically and mentally strong employees who are willing to help us succeed.

What do think is the cause? How do we change this culture? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave them here on the blog or wherever you might be reading this.

And as always, keep it positive!

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Boundaryless careers

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘boundaryless’ career?

Perhaps you imagine a special kind of career that defies definition. A career that spans all functions and facets of a business.

Maybe you thought of a career that could take off in any direction, as if the future were going to be without bounds.

Or maybe your mind takes a cynical turn and you thought of theq all-access (boundaryless) careers we have – email, mobile phone, laptop access 24-7.

Turns out that researchers were thinking of something different.

Social scientists give us this definition:

moving away from one single, externally determined view which defined what a good career is”

From Lips-Wiersma, M, McMorland, J. (2006) “Finding meaning and purpose in boundaryless careers: A framework for study and practice.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 46(2), 147-167.

In other words, a boundaryless career is one that is not concerned with climbing a specific career ladder, but is more concerned with ‘the individual’s experience of the career unfolding.’ In otherwords, a boundaryless career is a non-linear career path.

Boundaryless careers ask individuals to take responsibility for their career paths instead of the corporations that employ them. Traditional careers assume the corporation will move individuals up the ladder and reward employees with increased pay as they work hard and accomplish goals. Boundaryless careers are more concerned with meaning and purpose than with simply climbing a ladder.

My guess is that the idea of a lifetime career not being about climbing a ladder and instead about realizing a larger purpose initially strikes people differently based on their generation. My father (a baby boomer) joined a company fully expecting to work there until he retired. When that didn’t work out, he moved to another company expecting much the same thing. And then when again that did not work out, he went to work for himself, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

I (proudly generation X) personally did not expect to work at the same place for more than a few years before going someplace new. I’m not sure why, but I think my generation was told that we would never be happy in one place for long. I proved them wrong, along with many others of my generation, staying at the same company for 17 years and not leaving by my own choosing. Now, however, given the opportunity to explore possibilities in life and work, I find myself deeply drawn to the boundaryless career idea. I now want my work to be grounded in purpose and meaning.

As for the generations behind me, they were supposed to be the generation that put purpose and fulfillment ahead of any other career ambitions. Yet, in my time in corporate America, I saw a pattern much like mine. I saw the desire not to get stuck, and yet person after person sticking around long after any happiness they had in their position had been sucked out of them.

So although the idea might strike the generations differently initially – the Baby Boomers see a boundaryless career as their rewards after a long time spent slogging away in the corporate jungle, the Generation Xers as an idea that comes after disappointment and heartache, and the Millenials as the way it should have been anyway – it seems to me that we all come around to the idea that work would be much more satisfying and worthwhile if it were more focused on our purpose and brought meaning to our lives.

Now the question is: how do we find and/or build these boundaryless careers? How do we free ourselves of the notion of being ‘stuck’? How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives without having to relegate it to time spent outside of work?

These are great questions, and unfortunately there aren’t any easy answers. To reach these goals in life, it takes a great deal of self-awareness and introspection. I’ll give you some questions to start with below. At the same time, I’ll let you in on a secret – The short-cut is to get yourself a coach who will help guide you through this. (I can help with this!)

Here are some questions to ask yourself that may help you build your own boundaryless career:

  1. What brings you meaning? Write down your answers. Ask yourself this question over and over, answering from different perspectives (work, home, school, community, etc.) until you run out of ideas.
  2. What are your values? Write them down, then go back and circle the 3 most important. Why are these important to you? What do they look like in real life?
  3. If you were guaranteed not to fail, what would you do right now? What would happen if you failed?
  4. What is it that is keeping you from following your dreams? What would it take to allow you this freedom?

If you are moved by the idea of the boundaryless career, and want some help finding your own, I would love to help! Give me a call, leave a comment, or send me an email.

Happy Anniversary

A Year in Review

Normally we think of anniversaries as a time of celebration. Weddings, birthdays, and work anniversaries give us a chance to celebrate another year of accomplishment and (presumably) happiness.

Sometimes we celebrate the anniversaries of terrible events. Whether it is the loss of a loved one or a catastrophic event, an anniversary can bring up difficult emotions and feelings.

Regardless of whether it is a happy or sad event, an anniversary gives us a chance to reflect on something important that has happened in our lives. It is an opportunity to revisit what happened, how it impacted us (whether positively or negatively), and to consider how the passage of time has changed us. It often is a time to thoughtfully consider how we continue to move forward.

One year ago today (this seems unbelievable), I was laid off from my company of 17 years along with 300+ of my colleagues. So to myself and to all of my friends I say

Happy Anniversary.

As I sit and reflect today, I find that I am still struggling to determine whether this was a happy event or a sad event in my life. It certainly has qualities of both.

I am sad because I miss my colleagues. I miss the company where I dedicated 17 years of my life, and I miss the certainty of having a job to go to every morning and a paycheck arriving in my bank account every month. I miss being surrounded by amazing people every single day. I am sad to be detached from an industry I came to love.

On the other side of things, I am so happy about the opportunities I have had since then. I have quite a list that I am going to share here, none of which involve a traditional job. My hope is this will offer some encouragement to others still struggling to land.

I started my own business: The HUB Leadership Consulting Group. As part of this, I have worked with some amazing clients as a career coach. I have done quite a bit of public speaking (coming up next: WiBN Leadership Conference), and I have written 20+ blog posts. I would never have done all of this had I still been working at my previous company.

Through the work with my company, I have come to realize how important diversity is to my mission in life. No matter where I land or who I work for, the desire to continue learning and helping others to learn about critical diversity issues will always be a part of what I do.

I have built my network in all directions. I have met some absolutely amazing women and men all the way from Dayton to Northern Kentucky and across the country. Many of them I now call friends. We meet for coffee, lunch, or attend events together, or connect by phone or through social media. Regardless of when and where we meet, we support, encourage, and inspire each other. I am eternally grateful for these connections!

I have been back on stage, now working on my third show this year. This is one of the most incredible things to me – it seems unbelievable that it took leaving my corporate position for me to feel comfortable getting back on the stage. I believe that no matter where I end up, I will now always keep some connection to this part of my life.

I spent some important quality time with my kids this summer. I will admit, I was pretty scared to spend the entire summer at home with these guys. Having never been a stay-at-home mom, throwing me in the deep end with two teenage boys and a preteen girl seemed downright crazy. Turns out I loved it. I absolutely loved spending time with these spectacular individuals, and the time flew by.

I opened an Etsy shop! I take any anxiety I am feeling over my job search and at the end of the day, channel it into my knitting needles and crochet hooks. And now I sell my creations! This also allows me to share my hobby with my Mom, who also creates items for our shop. We have fun, and I am fairly certain we never would have taken this step if I hadn’t had this freedom to dream.

I know most of my colleagues have landed somewhere new. Some of us, however, are still out here searching. I will admit that I am rather shocked to find myself in that second category. That said, I will continue on my journey, will keep my head up, will continue to stretch myself and grow and do things that scare me. I’ll continue to support those around me and will allow them to support me.

And as always, I will stay positive. You do the same! Happy Anniversary.