Work hard, work harder: How we’re screwing up the pursuit of happiness.

Posted March 13, 2015 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

Once upon a time, in a work galaxy far, far away, there was a mantra that companies used to use. It went like this: work hard, play hard. Over the past decade (or possibly more), the mantra has changed to work hard, work harder as companies move their focus from why they do what they do, to a single minded drive to make money and increase shareholder value. Sure, there are a few bright sparks on the horizon. A handful of companies are bringing back the drive for purpose – Zappos, G Adventures, Whole Foods to name a few – but they are overwhelmingly few and far between. In my observation, this quest for the almighty dollar is wreaking a boatload of misery into our work lives… and our homelives.

Over the past few months, I’ve been consumed with money conversations about our business. We’re growing and that requires investment and, as anyone who knows anything about the business growth curve will attest, when you inject capital into your business there’s a period where the costs are outweighing the future potential earnings. Layer in big investments in new office space, the surprise loss of a key client and deferred projects and it’s easy to find yourself in a cashflow crunch that gets you up at 3 in the morning thinking about payroll and how you’re going to cover your costs.

And that’s when the downward spiral happens. The more you focus on making money to cover your bills, the more you get anxious about bringing in new business. The more anxious you are about bringing in business, the more you take your focus away from why you started your business in the first place. You begin to lose your “why”. Work is no longer fun. You’re grinding. And, in my experience, that’s when things begin to grind to a halt. You start having meetings talking about how to make more money. You spend hours looking at costs you can cut. You become more and more miserable.

Over the weekend, I watched a documentary called Happy. The filmmakers went on a search to find out what makes us happy. And guess what… it’s not the pursuit of material goods. Once you have your basic needs met – a roof over your head, food on your plate, there is virtually no difference in happiness levels between someone who earns $50,000 a year and someone who earns $50 million a year. Money really doesn’t buy happiness. And the pursuit of money actually makes us unhappy. Think about that for a minute.

The pursuit of money actually makes us unhappy.

I detest being unhappy at work. What brings me joy is when I know I’ve helped a leader navigate their career a little better, or when I know I’m making a difference to a team, or when one of my colleagues hits it out of the park.

If you’re feeling like you’re in a never ending numbers grind at work, try changing the focus. Here are a few very simple ways I do this at The Executive Roundtable:

  1. I open our weekly team meetings asking people to share something great that happened to them the week before – personal or work related. Whatever makes you feel good.
  2. We celebrate progress… even when we’re behind on budget. We look at what we’ve accomplished.
  3. We take time to appreciate each other’s contributions by sharing peer feedback.
  4. I make a list of 5 of our members that I haven’t spoken to in a while and reach out to see how they’re doing and share a laugh.
  5. I get inspired by reading an inspiring book, watching a TED Talk or writing a blog post like this one that I think might help others.

As many of you head into the March Break week with your families, think about how you can bring more happiness and balance into your life by taking the emphasis off money and material objects and putting it onto the things that ultimately matter most: love, relationships and community.

Happy leading!

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