I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but hard work harms your career.
Hard work is the myth many of us have modelled for us throughout our careers. Our parents, teachers, mentors, even previous and current bosses may uphold this myth (or at the very least, they don’t dispel it). It’s done by not saying “no”, or qualifying what exactly needs to be done in the short-term, taking on inhumane levels of work. It’s glamourized by a workplace culture of “busy” (because that means you’re important, right?).
It’s even held up as a badge of honour. In a recent article published by Inc. magazine approximately 40 percent of workers believe that burnout is an inevitable part of career success. 40 percent. Where’s the “honour” in that? No one should have to experience burnout to be successful. That’s not a “badge” anyone needs to have and it certainly won’t help you get ahead when you’re in the emergency room (or otherwise sidelined by your health).
Has this has ever happened to you? You’re speaking with your boss about a persistent problem you both want to figure out, and you begin sketching out some solutions (viable, but unproven) when your boss notices the time and says, “I’ve got another meeting. Can I leave this with you?”. Then blip, your boss is gone.
Now you’re sitting there with the temptation to make this unproven solution happen but without the time, budget, resources or even the basic agreement from others on its relative priority (or their input on what needs to be thought out to make it happen without impacting something else). I call this “drive-by delegation”.
It’s confusing and leaves a lot open to interpretation. Your boss may even forget you’ve had this conversation. Or they may have subsequent conversations with others (not you), changing and re-shaping what they want done (but forgetting to feed that back to you). Or your boss may just change their mind on whether or not that solution needs to get done now (and forget to tell you).
Or, they think you’re working on it with what’s left to you after putting in 50 hours or more every week, and your boss tells their boss it’s being looked after. You haven’t even agreed to do it (or have your team do it). “Drive-by delegation” is a source of “hard work” and sets no one up for success.
It’s also an example of how hard work comes dressed as opportunity, but really, it’s a sucker punch. So, how can you turn “hard work” into something you can learn and grow from?
You qualify it. Take 5 minutes to do this in a document (don’t worry about format or even spelling, just intuitively hash it out):
Why does this work as an antidote to hard work? Hard work comes in like a freight train, fast. Often the most strategic thing you can do is to slow things down, just enough, to really look at a request (or assumption) in context with everything else that’s going on. You’re not saying “yes’ and you’re not saying “no”. You’re inviting a conversation to explore the benefits, constraints and opportunity costs of doing or not doing this work. This is difficult to do, but it’s an enormous growth challenge for you, setting you up for future success at work
You’re making it a conscious choice, and making the time for others input to qualify not just the doing or not doing of the work, but the desired impact. AND, along the way you’re helping your boss to see what’s possible, and what’s not, given the current work context. This empowers your boss to make a strategic decision about this work, resourcing it, or parking it for later – and communicating that decision to set expectations.
Doing this takes 10 minutes or less and cuts through the culture of busy. It forces everyone to take a step back and think. It supports a culture of consciousness, without jeopardizing your effectiveness, or reputation. It’s a challenge, but one that supports your career, rather than keeping you trapped in the hard work/busy cycle that stifles your growth.
Culturally, the myth of hard work is pervasive – you’re either “in” or “out”. So, I realize the enormity of what I’m asking when I say you need to re-think hard work in your career. You deserve more than fast-paced, high-volume work. You deserved to be challenged. To grow. To explore and experience new things professionally that also support your organization.
Do not let hard work culture harm your career.
When I started working with Carleen my work-life balance was out of whack, I was unsatisfied and beginning to question whether I was in the right role. Her practices helped me become more grounded, rooted in my work and I learned to source nourishment from the activities that I perform on a daily basis at work."
I suffer from shiny object syndrome (SOS). If you’ve never run into this before it’s the desire to attain, or do, something for which you have a passion but may be “too much” for what’s needed. It’s also usually something attainable in the short-to-medium term (which is what drives the impulse to make it ALL happen).
At work shiny-object syndrome looks like this: your boss, or your team, discusses a problem and as it unfolds you can see exactly how to design and implement an amazing solution. Yes, I know I’ve just described what you’re paid to do every day, but here’s the problematic part. You can see what to do and how to do it without the constraints of time and budget. And it’s innovative. It’s creative. It’s ground-breaking. It may be the most complete and useful solution you’ve designed to date!
And that’s the shiny part. It’s also the part that can keep you from being relevant in your work. When you get ignited by ideas and opportunities that are right in your “wheel house” (professionally speaking), you imprint that complete and perfect version of the solution, but pursuing that version without qualifying it first is a little bit like marrying a complete stranger off the street.
While it’s great to explore “best practice” solutions, something to consider is that it may not be what your team, or organization, really needs right now. The time and effort needed to make it happen is always far more then you initially plan for – especially because the solution came to you so quickly (so how much time could this take?). Yes, in the fullness of time that may be exactly what your organization needs, but for now they may just need a part, a sliver… a start.
I’ll use myself as an example. In my former life as an HR professional, I was asked to help my organization come up with a way to more consistently give back to our local community AND create opportunities for employee fun at work. This is all stuff I am wildly passionate about, so with that nugget, off I went. I spent an entire weekend crafting a presentation, and calendar of events, for raising money and awareness for various causes in our community. I made sure I researched many diverse “doable” fun activities that employees would like (without affecting productivity). I then spent a whole week (in the evenings) honing this complete offering to perfection. It was a thing of beauty. And no one but me ever saw it.
I didn’t even have a chance to present it before the organization I was working for became consumed by a merger, and this initiative died before it had a chance to live. I understood our priorities had changed, but I was also devastated.
And here’s the worst part. If I’d gone back with an idea for 1 activity to get us started, that would have been approved before the merger madness took over. We would have given back AND had some fun AND I would’ve had a proof point that this type of investment was worth doing (and possible) EVEN when we were busy.
But none of that happened. What did happen was I didn’t deliver and the time I could have spent with my family was instead focused on work. Time I’ll never have back. Fortunately, I didn’t miss any major family milestones, looking back though I’m not sure that would have mattered as I was so consumed with delivering a gold-plated offering (see, shiny).
What I now know I should have done was qualify what was needed (1 event, as a pilot). That would have put something out into the organization as a proof point, and was achievable inside my working hours (not over a whole weekend, or an entire week of evenings).
A shiny-object syndrome (SOS) passion-project every now and again won’t harm you - your family might if you miss something important because you’re abandoning them to work on the weekends. But when you’re passionate about what you do, it’s never just one SOS, it’s a series of shiny objects upheld by a mindset of perfectionism, or service, or excitement to see it all come to life! AND that level of over-commitment creates the conditions for burnout and its associated harmful health impacts to your health and career.
What this asks of you (if you’re a fellow SOS’er like me), is to remember to ask some strong questions before blindly marrying that great idea.
Sometimes we set ourselves up for over-work when we’re not paying attention to what really matters – but it feels so good because the ideas and possibilities are so freaking cool. Yet, your health and wellbeing really matter, and shiny object or not your work/life boundaries need to be respected first and foremost by you, no one else can respect them for you. Check in and see if you’re getting carried away by SOSs. Then take the steps you need to qualify what’s being asked of you so it fits into your working day, benefits your organization and ultimately your career.
You can always work on the passion projects, but in slices, over time, responsibly – with no harm done.
Carleen opened up an entire world that I never knew existed. She helped me see how important it is to live and work while fulfilling every part of what makes you your own person."
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.