Ecclesiastes 3:22

“I see there is no happiness for man but to be happy in his work, for this is the lot assigned to him. Who then can bring him to see what is to happen after his time?”…..

In life we are required to continuously manage a myriad of relationships.  If I were to ask each of you to jot down the three to five most important relationships in your life I can safely guess that spouse/loving relationship partner, children, parents and/or siblings and boss and colleagues would be on the list. Missing is what I refer to as life’s essential relationships- our relationship to ourselves and to our work. This week I’m discussing our relationship to work although the two are interwoven.

As human beings we are goal directed organisms.  We move towards an outcome or away from it when fear overcomes us.  When ready for employment we enter into an implicit or explicit employment contract with our employer to complete a set of tasks for which we are paid. Hopefully a salary we feel is fair.

Having meaningful work, that is, work you value and feel well matched to is rewarding.  In today’s economy, with the high rate of unemployment many of you might be wondering why write this blog now?  It’s because fear and malaise are costly for each of us individually and for the companies in which we work.  Some of you are under-employed meaning you have more capability than what your current role requires.  Others are treading water in stormy seas because you have been asked to do not only your own work, but also the tasks of others whose roles have been eliminated. Still others are over-stretched without the current capability to do the work required in the role.

Requisite Organization defines work as “the exercise of judgment and discretion in making decisions in carrying out goal-directed activities” (From Social Power and the CEO by Elliott Jaques, page 187).  Simply stated, goal-directed activities focus on the completion of tasks or series of tasks.  Groups of tasks are organized into specific roles in work systems, which are then organized into the infrastructure or the organization spine of the company…the fabric of the company.  When well matched to the requirements of our role, synergy occurs.  I like to think of this as “humming along”, that is, the work is a continuous cycle of motivation and accomplishment resulting in personal as well as organization satisfaction.  If you have experienced this, and I hope you have, it is one of the most satisfying experiences you can have in life.

What to do to create personal synergy at work:

1.    Conduct a personal audit of your current employment or last employment if presently unemployed.  Ask yourself if you value the work you are doing?  Do you feel well matched to the assignments given?  Are you overwhelmed and stressed out?  Do you feel under-employed?  Are you over-stretched meaning the work requires capability and ways of thinking for which you are currently unprepared? Be truthful!  Identify your ideal role.  Does it exist in your present company?  Develop a plan to get from where you are to where you want to be even if it’s a long-term plan.

2.    If under-employed here are two suggestions.  Firstly, let your manager know.  It’s not that you want more of the same added to the role but rather that you can do more than what is being asked of you at present.  Most managers would appreciate a discussion of this type.  It provides an opportunity for them to rethink some of the assignments or perhaps provide you with one of the projects s/he has been meaning to get to for months and never seems to have the time.  You may not get an increase in salary but you will get an increase in recognition and you will feel more energized about your work. Secondly, look outside the organization for a place to volunteer.  I know one such friend whose employment for years did not utilize his full capability.  He got active in local politics, which provided an outlet for his capability.  Only recently has he moved into a role that requires his full capability.

3.    If you are drowning at work because you are doing the work of two or three people you need to engage your boss in a discussion to brainstorm how to provide relief.  It may be the workload gets spread amongst a few, or some things get eliminated.  On the other hand, if you are overstretched and can’t keep up with the requirements of the role, yet reticent to communicate this you’re gambling with your life and your family’s future.  Consistent intensely stressful situations cause health and social problems namely dis-ease and can result in health problems and/or acting out behavior.  Fear prevents many from raising this in discussion with management and/or beginning to look for new employment.  We are no good to those we love if always angry, uptight and living in fear of being found out.

Engaged organizations require workers at every level to be accountable for communicating what may be interfering in the effective execution of tasks in their role.  This is a two way street with communication flowing up as well as down.  Given the economic down turn we are in its imperative that our companies become competitive once again.  The answer lies not in expense reduction but in the recognition that in our people lies the key to worldwide competitive advantage.