Yes, Americans need to work, and businesses of all sizes now claim they are desperate to hire. So why are we quitting jobs, refusing employment offers we supposedly “can’t refuse,” resisting orders to return to previous workplaces, and generally just mad as hell at those who employ us or beg to hire us?
A few clues can be found in Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Find Happiness at Work by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. “Almost nothing in your life takes more of your time and energy than work,” they write. “And yet, in poll after poll, Gallup indicates that approximately 69 percent of American workers are disengaged from their work (a percentage that includes the plain ‘disengaged’ and the angry and resentful ‘actively disengaged.’)”
The business world may say otherwise, but it doesn’t really focus all that much on worker happiness, of course. Its bottom lines are making profits and pleasing investors. Employees, managers, and their benefits and bonuses are just bundles of cost that eat into profits and diddle with investors’ greed-o-meters.
Burnett’s and Evans’s useful and readable book is about how to design and build “a better and more meaningful job” without having to (1) quit your current job (if you have one), (2) find a new position, or (3) hold out for a “dream” job that may never exist or become accessible. You may have to alter and grow your work mind-set, however. And that may not be easy for many people.
Do You Have a Fixed or a Growth Mind-set?
The authors explain that a “fixed-mind-set person believes that their intelligence and abilities are fixed, natural ‘talents’ that cannot be changed. When they succeed at something, it is because of their natural abilities. When they fail, same reason–they ‘just aren’t good at that.’ Meanwhile, “a growth-mind-set person believes that, although everyone starts with different natural abilities, their intelligence and talents can be developed. They can learn and master new things.”
In their view, “[f]ixed-mind-set folks tend to be more fragile when it comes to setbacks, and tend to give up sooner because ‘it’s not my fault, I’m not good at that.’ People with a growth mind-set tend to be more persistent and more willing to work hard to achieve a goal, even if they aren’t very good at it when they start.” Burnett and Evans offer some useful strategies for redesigning the job you currently have–and hate–so you can stick with it and make yourself feel happier and more creative with what you do. But just in case your efforts are rebuffed by management or co-workers, the authors also offer some tips for how to resign gracefully and “springboard” yourself into a new position somewhere else. At the same time, we also are not locked into fixed or growth mind-sets, they write. “Research shows we are a mixture of fixed and growth mindset, and we operate somewhere on a continuum.” They describe “things you can do to move toward a growth mind-set.” And: “If growth mind-set is already your default, you can make yourself better with practice.”
Another Book with Useful Ideas
Looking for a more loving way of living and working and being valued for your uniqueness? Check out Love + Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life by Marcus Buckingham.
“At work, according to the most recent data,” Buckingham emphasizes, “less than 16 percent of us are fully engaged, with the rest of us just selling our time and our talent and getting compensated for our trouble. In the worst extremes of always-on, high-stress jobs, such as distribution centers, emergency room nursing, and teaching, incidences of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] are higher than they are for veterans returning from war zones.”
His book emphasizes that it’s important to “find your way back to who you are” and also find work that absorbs you, not bores or angers you (or both). Buckingham writes: “To find our way back to those parts of us that get buried beneath the world and all the other people within it, we need to lay bare what’s causing so many of us to get lost in the first place. Because this mass losing of self, this epidemic of alienation, isn’t happening by accident. It’s the inevitable outcome of a system designed to separate you from you.”
The things you love to do are essential parts of your life, he notes. And he asks: “Why do they do this? Why do schools and workplaces not take your loves seriously? Why do they not make a point of teaching you your own love language, and helping you turn your loves into contributions? Why do they instead push you to a place where you are cut off from yourself? Why do they not start with you, the individual, and then follow you down through all the doors and hallways and secret passages of your unique loves and loathes?”
Birmingham points out that “[i]n any job, sustained excellence without love is impossible. Love isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.|” But here’s the good news: You don’t have to be 100% in love with your job to keep doing it successfully and remain engaged and employed. Indeed, if you can “find love in at least 20 percent” of what you do at work, you are less likely to start experiencing burnout, job-related accidents, or “medicating yourself with absences, alcohol, and drugs.
The author hopes his book also will help companies and managers “realize the benefits–in the form of fewer lost workdays, higher-quality work, less burnout, better student outcomes–of designing a role around what the best people in that role love about it. Use love as the design criteria for a job–any job–and it will look very different from the inhuman job descriptions and mandates so many have to suffer through.”