There is an interesting study underway at Carleton University between being hungry and taking risks (in particular as it relates to gaming http://http-server.carleton.ca/~mwohl/Dr_Michael_Wohl/Home.html). Correlations are suspected between hunger and higher risk behaviour during gambling. Hunger after all is one of the foundational items on Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Human Needs” making this a fascinating field of study. For those of us who’ve tried to reform our eating habits we’ve learned we make poorer choices at the grocery store when we show up hungry to shop (at restaurants too for that matter…yes, I’ll have fries with that!). There is another type of hunger that hits Maslow’s list that has to do with our emotions. We need to feel safe before we are able to process much in our day; fortunately this is present (at a foundational level) for most of us - we don’t have James Bond type careers, nor do many of us work in a war zone. However, there are important emotions tied to being heard, being understood and being accepted that help us to feel comfortable (even safe) in our day-to-day work. These are not consistently present for everyone in workplaces today and they can have as much of an impact on our behaviour at work as being hungry does on the types of decisions we make.
I’ll give you an example. I knew of a gentleman who was in what he described as a no-win situation, trapped in a role where he felt he had no way out. He did not get along with his “new” manager (a person who been put in place 2 years prior) and his repeated requests for a transfer were refused. Prior to the management change he’d loved his job, he excelled at the work and had a good working relationship with his boss and team. With the change in management he assumed things would continue along the same path. They did not. The management style of the new boss and his previous boss could not have been more different. He and his new boss did not understand each other and over time the relationship became toxic. However, due to his enormous proficiency in what he did (and his organization’s reliance on it) he was denied a transfer. His offer to cross train another person was also turned down due to staffing shortages and budgets cuts. The impact of all of this on my client? He mentally “quit”. He kept gong in to work and doing his job, but he stopped putting in any extra time. He ensured the important aspects the organization needed were attended to, but he didn’t reliably go to staff meetings or help on other projects; he isolated himself and stopped socializing at work when normally he would have engaged his peers. He realized things had gone “too far” when he went to work for a week straight wearing the same clothes he would normally wear to mow the grass and do chores around the house (a great departure from his usual standard of dress).
“That was the wake-up call for me!” he remarked. “I realized then I had not only given up on my job, but on myself too – something had to change”. It points to the impact of “emotional hunger” in the workplace. At the crux of the problem for this person was working with a manager who had different priorities, dissimilar beliefs and a leadership style he did not understand; essentially his manager could not meet his emotional needs as an employee. During the period where he and this new manager were getting to know each other they both mis-stepped, which snowballed into assumptions, culminating in a series of heated exchanges and then avoidance. There were no workplace structures to help them through this period and so it sat between them, like a stone…and much like a stone, the longer you hold on to it the heavier it becomes. The gentleman suffered under this “weight”, and his emotional needs at work went un-met; both the ones he could satisfy himself (socialization, teamwork, achievement) and the ones that his employer could reasonably be responsible for (recognition, encouragement, support). The result of this person’s emotional hunger was to check out, but you can’t do that in only one area of life, there is always collateral damage (hence the compromised personal appearance – he wasn’t just wearing chore clothes to work, they showed up everywhere else too).
Once this gentleman understood what his needs were he was able to achieve more equilibrium, even in the toxic work environment. In turn this set him up for more success when he needed to make decisions about what to do next in his career. In the end he did leave the organization, but not without first satisfying for himself that he had given his new manager a real try. He worked at building bridges back to his co-workers and (eventually) to his new manager because this was important to his self-esteem; he recognized he didn’t handle things as well as he should have in the beginning and he wanted to rectify that concern first. Once he had done all he could and realized that even in the new environment he had helped to build he had needs that could not be met he made the decision to look elsewhere. He didn’t leave “hungry” though, he left fully satisfied that he had done all he could and learned a lot about himself in the process. Not everyone’s emotional hunger will show up as “checking out”, it may present itself as perpetual stress, reluctance to go to work, a higher prevalence of anger and frustration on the job, etc. Everyone’s needs are different but what is consistent is that when emotional hunger is present it will assert itself. If you are feeling “hungry” how well do you work? Talk to someone about it – you don’t have to deal with it alone.
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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.