If you’re reading this, it’s fair to assume that you’ve started to think seriously about your purpose in life. One of the most useful steps is to uncover your personal values, and if you haven’t done that yet, we strongly recommend doing it now.
Like many people, you feel that work is where you want to make a difference.
This is good; work takes up a large proportion of your time, and usually means spending time with others, so there are opportunities to help people by influencing or serving them.
But what if the work you do, or the organisation you work for, doesn’t fulfil you? What if you’ve realised that your values and your purpose are being suppressed? What do you do then?
SHOULD YOU STAY OR SHOULD YOU GO?
The first thing to say is do nothing hasty. If you’ve found a new direction to your life which is quite different from what you’re doing now, that’s exciting news, and it’s likely to bring you great satisfaction. But it’s still worth living with it for a month or two before you taking action.
Two reasons. Firstly, it allows you to think things through. You can check both your head and your heart. And you can start planning your new life.
Secondly, you can keep the financial and emotional support that your work provides while you’re retuning or redirecting your plans.
THE FIRST DECISION
You’ve probably made your first decision already. You want to make a difference: is it going to be at work, or somewhere else? If it’s somewhere else, the decision on work is less pressing, and you can take it in the overall context of where and how you intend to make a difference.
If you want to make a difference through your work, then you need to make some urgent appraisals. If you are not happy or fulfilled where you work, then ask yourself the following questions.
IS IT YOU, THE WORK, OR THE WORKPLACE?
-is it you that’s the problem?
-is it the type of work/job specification that’s wrong?
-is it the market you’re working in that’s wrong?
-is it the people? -is the culture/values of where you work?
-is it the products or services you’re dealing with?
-or is it the commuting?
Let’s begin by answering the first question.
IS IT YOU THAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Are you positive, enthusiastic, creative and effective at work? Or is there negativity, backbiting, even a lack of trustworthiness? Do you moan about the leadership or the management – either to their faces, or behind their backs?
It is easy to get poisoned by a poisonous environment, and slip into bad habits, which you would find unacceptable if you came fresh to a new workplace.
Let’s take a small but very important example. Rolling your eyes behind the back of an especially frustrating person, or boss, may temporarily relieve your feelings, but it damages them and it damages you.
Likewise, speaking badly of someone has three negative impacts. Firstly it damages the person you are talking about, because you are saying bad things about them. Secondly, it damages you, because the person you are talking to won’t trust you in future not to speak badly of them or others they may talk about. And thirdly, it damages the person you are talking to, because they now know bad things about two people in the organisation they work for. Conversely, speaking well of people has the same three impacts, but they are all positive.
Try the 24-HOUR CHALLENGE. Commit yourself to saying only good things about people for the next 24 hours. If you find yourself saying something less than positive, start the 24 hour clock ticking again from scratch.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, but stick with it. Once you have succeeded, try doing it for a week, then a month. And keep starting the clock ticking again each time you fail. It will then become second nature, and you’ll find it very uncomfortable to say anything negative about people at all. This will help to reverse the flow of any poison currently in your workplace, and start to eliminate it altogether.
IS IT THE WORK?
If it is the work itself that you now find wrong for you, you will need to think what is wrong with it. It may be the specific job specification that is wrong, which may be a little easier to address.
If this is the case the first step is to be very clear what is wrong about the job spec and what is right. Take care to consider the points above – are you part of the problem, and if so, make sure you address the areas that fall within your responsibility and control first. Then you can move on to those areas in the control of your employer.
When you are clear what the issues are, and you have made the changes to your attitudes and behaviours that may have been necessary from your preliminary analysis, you can move on to a dialogue with your employer. This may be through the human relations function, if there is one, or through your line manager.
The most likely outcome is that you can reach some sort of accommodation to adapt or change your job spec to benefit both you and your employer. Nowadays, employers are more and more aware that getting and keeping good staff is one of their biggest challenges, so they are more inclined to be flexible to make sure they keep good people – especially ones who are committed enough to want to make a difference.
If you have thought seriously about it and you have come to the conclusion that it is the work itself which is the problem, that is more serious. You will have analysed what aspects cause you problems, and from this analysis you will have to make a decision on your next steps. If the work is problematical within the context of your organisation, but would be acceptable in a different organisation, then you will have to consider moving to a more suitable workplace where your skills would fit in better, and be more productive.
IS IT THE NATURE OF THE WORK ITSELF?
Then the situation is more fundamental. You will need to think very hard about your next steps. What you are considering is a change of career. This may be a very good thing. Countless people get new energy and effectiveness by a change in career – sometimes brought about by events beyond their control. This can be true even late in life.
Colonel Sanders was sixty seven when a desperate financial state caused him to drive round countless restaurants in his beaten up car trying to sell them a recipe for frying chicken. His perseverance led to the creation of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, which for him, and others, turned out to be fingerlickin’ good.
So a change in the type of work you do may give an opportunity for the creation of new value – for yourself and others – and the release of new energy. It may also open up the opportunity to make a significant difference.
IS IT THE PEOPLE?
This is a tricky one. Again you need to go back to the first question. Is the problem with the people due to a poisonous atmosphere – to which you were contributing? The first obvious thing to do is to follow the advice above and sort out your own attitudes and behaviours first.
The next step is to attempt to influence those around you. Take small steps to show you are not going to be influenced by the culture around you. It may be that if people are indulging in minor pilfering of the organisation’s property (its stationery, or goods, for example). Refuse politely to take part in this sort of behaviour. You may well find that others also are uncomfortable with this sort of activity, and are relieved to see your behaviour. It gives them the excuse to resist the pull of the negative culture, and behave as they would naturally.
If the problem is more fundamental, move on the next question.
IS IT THE WORKPLACE – ITS CULTURE AND VALUES?
If the culture and values are at odds with your own, then (short of leaving) the challenge is to find the most effective way to stay and fight to improve the situation.
Staying and Fighting
The first thing to do is to be specific about the problem. One way to do this is to do a Values Map on the organization you work for. But you have to do it in two stages.
The first is to map the values of the organization as they really are. Put the true values on the map, not what it says in any mission statement.
Once you have done this, compare this with your own values map.
Then study the differences, and ask yourself:
Can you live with the gap; or could you help to bridge the gap, to bring about changes you’d like to see in your organisation? Then your next step is to work out either how you will live with the bad stuff, or how you will change it. This will obviously depend on your individual circumstances, but the following section on Positive Purpose Alignment has an example which may help.
Or do you have to face up to a bigger change – and leave? In this case, the same advice as earlier applies – take time, and think about it, before jumping into any precipitate action you might regret later.
POSITIVE PURPOSE ALIGNMENT
If the purpose of your organisation sits happily with your own, that is excellent. You can move onto the next stage, which is identifying your Impetus.
If not, you may need to restate your company or organisation’s purpose. This may sound subversive, but it is not intended to be. You are merely restating its purpose so that it fits better with your personal purpose, so you can operate more effectively for the organisation. This restatement must of course be ethical and in keeping with the desire to improve things, and make the world a better place. We are not talking about subverting an organisation’s purpose for your own gains.
Take as an example the following imaginary situation. You work for a small estate agency, which has no stated vision, but a trading policy which could be summed up as:
We aim to be best at selling or finding property for our clients as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Unstated within this is the understanding that the efficiency is in the favour of the estate agency, rather than their client.
You find this both morally ambivalent and lacking in motivation for you personally. Trading in property can be somewhat soulless, and sometimes commercial practices leave no room for morality.
To overcome this, you align your purpose with that of your employer by restating the purpose of the company as follows:
We aim to lead in helping people find or sell homes – not mere flats or houses – understanding that it is a huge financial and emotional investment for them
Such a vision of the organisation’s purpose may be more stimulating and engaging for you. Helping human beings find or sell homes, which can be central to their happiness and aspirations, is more worthwhile, and has more meaning, than just dealing in property transactions.
So restate your organisation’s purpose in a way that gives it personal meaning, and which you find stimulating and worthwhile. Once your personal purpose and that of the organisation you work for is aligned, you will find your work has the meaning you are searching for, and that much of the stress disappears.
New energy will be released, as your passion and talents work together to fulfil your purpose which is now aligned with your workplace.
IS IT THE PRODUCTS AND SERVICES YOU’RE DEALING WITH?
If the products and services are a problem for you again you have to approach it as a challenge to resolve, or, if it turns out to be unresolvable for you, to make a careful exit so you can be more effective at making a difference somewhere else. Your personal satisfaction and fulfilment are important. Not only to you personally, but to you ability to deliver value well for others. So it important to sort these issues out.
The steps to do so are the same as those above. Once you have addressed the culture and values, and aligned your purpose positively with your organisation, you should go through the same process with the products or services. See how they can become synergistic with your purpose. As with the example of the estate agent, work out a way of positively involving your product or service with your overall plan to make a difference.
IS IT THE COMMUTING?
This can be serious challenge, and one that can build up in its impact on your effectiveness both at work and at home. There are three possible solutions. The first, of course, is to reduce the commuting time (by either moving closer to your work, or finding work closer to your home). More easily said than done. The second is to agree with your employer that a percentage of your work can be done more effectively from home. And the third solution is to make your commuting time more productive and enjoyable – or at least less stressful.
One way to reduce stress is not to look at your watch once you are on the train, or bus, or in the car. Nothing you can do will make the train or bus go faster. Nor can it reduce the traffic if you are driving. So only look at your watch when you get there, and concentrate on relaxing in the meantime. By living in suspended time whilst travelling, much of the stress of commuting can be relieved.
Listening to music, learning a language, or listening to the reading of a book, are all ways of making the time spent travelling more productive and less anxiety inducing (be careful if you are driving). If you have space to move your arms on the train or bus, dealing with a few emails on a handheld devices may be useful, or doing some work on the laptop, or other mobile device.
The important thing is your attitude to the time spent commuting. Rather than seeing it as the theft of time, see it as a gift of time. This is your personal time to work or play, or educate yourself. It is an opportunity to catch up with friends on the mobile, or to email them( if you’re not online while travelling, write them in draft, and send them later). Use it as your time. Try to relish it, rather than dread it.
The good news is that if you are a person looking to make a difference you are the sort of person employers are looking for, whatever the state of the jobs market.
But be cautious, to avoid jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Rather than “should I stay or should I go”, it may be: “is it me or is it them?” Apply the advice outlined above to your situation at work before making any hasty decisions.
If you then decide to make your difference in a new work situation, you will do so in the knowledge that you are doing so for the right reasons.