Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Am I in a Dysfunctional Job? by Michelle Kunz

Most likely you and everyone you know can think of someone who has worked or is currently working at a job they would be much happier leaving. They don't get along with their supervisor or they dislike the work itself. They end their day exhausted and irritable. It is fairly easy to understand why someone would choose to leave such a situation but the truth is many choose to stay. Why would someone continue working under such stressful conditions?

One of the September manifestos on the excellent website Change This is entitled "The Turnover Dilemma: A Question to Keep Employees." Author Matthew Kelly reviews the current belief set around why people leave their jobs and then offers a new idea:

If you asked most consultants in the field why employees voluntarily leave a job they would give you some or all of the following answers…
  • The employee’s relationship with his/her manager is dysfunctional.
  • The employee does not feel appreciated and valued.
  • The employee does not feel that his/her talents are being utilized. i.e. they feel like they have more to offer.
  • The employee has no way to measure his/her success or progress.
What most consultants will not tell you is that while these are all valid reasons, they are secondary to what is at the core of the turnover issue. The #1 reason people leave a job is not because they have a dysfunctional relationship with their manager or because they don’t feel appreciated. They leave because they cannot see the connection between the work they are doing today and the future they imagine for themselves.

If we take Kelly's position that it is a lack of connection to our dreams which causes us to leave, we can also reason that some people will choose to remain in a miserable situation because they believe that doing so will help them achieve a goal or dream. The other possibility is that we remain in dysfunctional situations because we are afraid of what we might lose if we leave. Let's look at these two possibilities and how a leader might handle each.

I cannot afford to lose

When we are caught in the energy of "I must avoid _________" we fight a losing battle. This battle is in our minds, and this is why we cannot win. No matter how much we stockpile against the possibility of encountering that which we seek to avoid, we will never have quite enough. We can suddenly lose it all. Examples of things people frequently believe they cannot afford to lose:
  • Dignity
  • Self respect
  • Credibility
  • Popularity
  • Prestige
  • Status
  • Wealth
  • Authority

The reality is some of these are qualities that live within us and which cannot be lost without our permission and cooperation (dignity, self respect). Some are dependent on factors that may very well be out of our control (popularity, prestige, authority). Still others are combinations of external factors and internal qualities. Any time there are external factors, we do not have full control of the outcome. Any attempt to gain full control is wasted energy.

Grasping for control produces the opposite of the desired outcome. The more we strive to maintain our dignity on the outside, the greater the chance that we are losing it in the very act of striving. Dignity is a state of being, not a state of striving. Likewise, striving to control our level of popularity, an externally controlled factor, likely will decreased our actual popularity level because popularity is defined by others, not by how hard we try to be popular.

A powerful leader asks tough questions of him/herself and answers honestly. Am I striving or grasping for things I really have no control over? Am I tolerating a dysfunctional situation because I believe I have something to lose if I leave? More powerfully, do I believe I will lose something by honestly and constructively confronting the dysfunctions and doing my best to create a better environment for myself and others?

What would it be like to ask those same questions of your team members? What would you do with the answers? How can you help team members caught up in "I can't afford to lose" energy understand that this is an internal battle which can be reframed to help improve their situation?

I have a dream

Kelly asserts that having a dream engages us more strongly than any other single factor, including money or position. Consider the immigrant who works a back-breaking job for long hours every day because they dream of uniting their far-away family in their adopted country some day. Strategy, important as it is, is not nearly as engaging as dreaming.

What is your dream? If you choose to remain in a dysfunctional job because you are working to achieve your dream, the more powerfully and specifically you define that dream, the more engaged you will become with your work, in spite of the dysfunctions. As a result of this higher level of engagement, you will feel empowered to choose to address the reasons for the dysfunctions and work to resolve them. You will feel empowered to make more and better choices for yourself and for your team.

A powerful leader defines his/her dreams and keeps them easily accessible at all times. When faced with dysfunction on the job, the dream gives them the confidence and drive to address the issues at hand and find a healthier resolution. Moreover, a truly great leader inspires all those within their sphere of influence to nurture their own dreams, empowering them with the same confidence and drive to address issues and work toward resolution.


Anonymous said...

nice blog friend and have a nice day
thank you

Michelle Kunz said...

Thank, you cuncun, you have a great day, too, and keep reading!