Your Company Can't Love You Back
A lesson on why you should
give the best of yourself at work...
but only to a point.
Finding the right balance between work and life is tough. Too often, work seems to win in the battle for our time and energy. Consider this. Sometimes life outside of work takes priority, but it's usually only at times of extraordinary circumstance. Something really good happens that demands our attention and we happily give in. We fall in love, we have a baby, or someone in our life celebrates a major milestone. The same is true when something bad (or sad) happens that requires our full attention. The rest of the time? Work often gets the best of who we are and what we've got to offer.
I've worked with thousands of people over the years. Work-Life Balance is an enormous challenge for almost everyone. I've shared insight before in my article "Pursuit of the Ever-Elusive Work-Life Balance." I encourage you to read it if you haven't already. It has some great ideas on how to balance work and life.
What I realized this week after talking with a client, though, is that finding balance... can't be done without finding perspective about the role that work plays in your life. All the tips and tricks in the world won't help you find the right balance if you don't have perspective.
Do you find yourself routinely:
- Missing interactions with loved ones before or after work?
- Showing up late to important events with family or friends because of work?
- Canceling plans with others because something comes up at work?
- Treating your co-workers with more kindness, respect, and courtesy than loved ones?
- Having a hard time fitting workouts in, due to long or depleting work hours?
- Making unhealthy food choices due to stress or your work schedule?
- Feeling enormous pressure just to get done your "urgent" work?
- Saying, "I'm sorry" as you take a call or respond to email while with others?
Some of these things are unavoidable. But if they happen routinely, you're giving a lot of yourself to your work. You're making sacrifices that may seem appropriate and absolutely necessary. Your bosses may appreciate you. They may pay you well. They may promise you the world if you stay the course. They'll take all you're willing to give.
I ask you to consider for a moment if you're giving the best of yourself to your work... or to your life. If you don't keep work in perspective, you miss the opportunity to give your best to both. It's a risky proposition. Why? Because your company can't love you back. Read more for three universal truths you should know.
Just to be clear, you'll never hear me say that you shouldn't do your best work. Anything less, to me, is totally contrary to achieving success and satisfaction in the workplace. Doing your best work - is a lot different than giving the best of who you are and what you have to offer at work. The distinction may seem subtle, but it's important. Here's why.
Almost all of us will lose at least one job unexpectedly over the course of our careers. Some people will have the experience multiple times. Your company may downsize, close an office, change priorities, or determine that you don't fit with a new future direction. You may say, do, or witness something that makes you expendable. You may have an ongoing conflict with a power player in your organization and there's no surviving it. Your boss may leave and you're back at ground zero, or asked to leave by the new boss.
If you've done your best work, you'll survive more of these situations than other people. If you've gone the extra mile when the stakes were high, you'll be even better off. But there's what's called a "Law Of Diminishing Returns" that exists in business and economics. In this context it means that the more you give of yourself at work, the better... but only to a point. At some point, the "return" on your "investment" of time, energy, heart, and soul no longer benefits you or your organization.
Here are a few universal truths you should know:
1. Companies want well-rounded, happy, fulfilled, interesting, productive employees -
but they'll continuously challenge your ability to stay in that state.
2. Companies expect you to go above and beyond and make sacrifices -
but only on occasion and only when it really matters. Not every time.
3. Companies respect employees with boundaries,
as long as employees are willing to be flexible and negotiate.
You may feel that the more you do, the better. The more you're available, the more valuable you become. The more you contribute, the more opportunities you'll have to get ahead. This is all true, but only to a point.
If you give too much of yourself at work, you hit a point of diminishing returns. You're no longer well-rounded. You're less fulfilled from a whole-life perspective. You become less interesting. You become less interested. You're less productive at some point, and may even start to resent how much you're giving. When you hit that point, you actually become less valuable to a company - not more.
It doesn't matter how hard you're working. It doesn't matter how much you've sacrificed. Your company can only care about your potential value to their future success. They can't love you back. Their memory is short. Particularly given how quickly leaders transition in and out of roles. Doing your best work consistently is remembered. The rest... is pretty quickly forgotten.
I've always hated the saying, "When you're on your deathbed, you won't wish you would've worked harder." Maybe it's because I don't like thinking that far ahead. Maybe it's because I always felt like it was easy for someone else to say, who wasn't in my position. I realize more and more, that like it or not, the saying is true for most of us. I've struggled with over-committing and over-extending my entire career. It's taken a long time for me to find a new perspective. That's why I share it here with you. Maybe you can take the short-cut.
If you sacrifice by giving too much of yourself at work, it surely won't feel worth it if you're let go unexpectedly. The sacrifices will feel far too great a price to pay. The same is true if you lose someone close to you, and you missed the opportunity to spend time with him or her because you over-invested time at work. Why would you want to give the best of who you are and what you have to offer - to a company that can't love you back?
Do your best work, absolutely. Go above and beyond, only on occasion and always when it matters. Set boundaries for yourself, but let your boss know you're flexible and that you'll be there when it really counts. Be sure you're giving the best of who you are and what you have to offer to both your work and your life.
My $.02: Balance your perspective, live a better life.
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