One of the most competent badass professionals sat across from me, her eyes brimming with tears. Her exhaustion was palatable. You could just FEEL how long she had been pushing that rock uphill. “I’ve never worked in a place where I could be myself before. Where I could just be ME, and not get labeled as weird, unprofessional, quirky, or otherwise ill-fitted.”
All of her previous work experience leading up to this point had been unfilling at its best, and downright hellish at its worst.
Another co-worker chimed in enthusiastically: “yeah, I’m never going to be entry-level again. When you work an “entry-level” job, you are underpaid and overworked. You’re never treated with respect or as if you have any value.” He swore on his life he’d never again be in such a position.
They may not know exactly where they are going or how they will show up when they get there. But they know one thing for sure: toxic work environments suffocate one’s personal brand and make it impossible for it to grow.
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace found that around 70% of American workers are not engaged in their jobs – they’re basically sleepwalking through their careers. But this alarming statistic doesn’t stop there. From that 70% of American workers, 18% of them are actively working AGAINST their companies, which alone costs between $450-$550 billion in lost productivity every year.
A simple Google search reveals a plethora of questions on how and why work sucks. A large part of the answer is that many of us are engaged in work that has zero correlation to who we are inside. Our unique talents and abilities are not at all well-matched to our jobs.
If you’ve ever worked in a shitty job (and who hasn't?), you know how exhausting it is. It’s a battle of attrition just to get through the day. Endlessly spinning your wheels and steeling yourself for zombie-ing through 40+ hrs a week like someone else. Bracing yourself for mind-numbing staff meetings, soul-sucking small talk, and nerve-wracking annual reviews. Merely summoning the courage to put your foot in the door every morning feels insurmountable.
A rapidly changing business landscape and some dusty, old-fashioned ideas are most-likely to blame. Is a craptacular work experience just the cross we have to bear in this modern world?
Forward-thinking companies have to shift their practices in hiring, onboarding, and professional development to more closely align with their workforce, foster greater personal excellence, and boost engagement. Here’s how:
Get real about the importance of work culture. You already know that brand is every touch point in your business. But this does not limit itself to outreach. The more you define and develop your work culture, the more you will attract the right people to your project; i.e. people who won’t spend all of their energy pretending to fit in.
Recruit with truthbombs. Be honest about the kind of workplace you foster. Do you frequently use swear words? Get goofy? How often is the Bosslady out of the office? Are you expected to work independently most of the time? Brand your recruitment tools by writing “want ads” that sound like you, not like the HR Department’s Guide to Mediocrity. (Isang’s #protip: Banish the words “Entry Level” from your job description.)
Shake up your hiring process. Are you seeking highly creative types? Stop asking people questions like “What is your greatest weakness?” (Otherwise, brace yourself for “I work too hard!” as a standard answer.) Test for traits like rigor, empathy, and teamwork. It’s possible and probable that someone’s magic gets revealed in the first meeting. You only need to decide if that magic aligns with your own.
Invest in professional development. You don’t have to send your team to Gazelle’s training or a Tony Robbins conference to become their best selves. Take the time to gauge how they learn and modify your workspace to accommodate that. Have a kinetic learner? Let them move around. Got someone shedding labels of “weird”? Laugh at their jokes. Look for the light in their eyes and give them more of that thing to do.
Celebrate individualism and personal brand. Think of your company as a melting pot of super powers and magic makers, not a place of assimilation. Help your team improve their individual brands and finely hone their skills. Encourage awesomeness to happen every day and in every way.
The price we pay when we are not ourselves at work is devastatingly steep. It makes individuals unhappy, teams ineffective, and companies inefficient. It is part of the bigger picture that “work sucks.” If you are in charge, tweak the way you are building your company and elevate the legacy of the Information Age. If you are seeking solace in a new kind of workforce, be honest with employers (and yourself) about who you are and what your life purpose is.
Then, all that’s left to do is smile and nod smugly when your friends complain about their jobs, because you’ve been there, done that, and moved the hell on.