The literature on work cultures is filled with stories of life-sapping jobs. You know, those dead-end jobs where you’re doing meaningless work for what seems like an eternity—like spinning lug nuts onto passenger-side front wheels eight hours a day for ten years. While people took on these sorts of jobs at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and Henry Ford’s mass production system, we’ve replaced some of the most mundane, repetitive work with automation. Because, really, who wants to do that? And more important, in this day and age, aren’t we past working for the soulless behemoth that treats you like a cog in a machine?
I sure hope so. The job-seeking counsel most offered these days is to, at minimum, like whatever you do, and better yet, go find a job you’re passionate about. We’ll probably never get to a place where everyone is doing something they love every day of their life and being paid handsomely to do it. And sometimes, no matter how well educated or perfectly located or totally motivated you may be, you’re going to have to do work that is not as fulfilling as you might like. This is the fulcrum on which the whole question of job versus passion is—must be—balanced.
A lot of young, smart, passionate people sincerely believe they’re going to find a job they absolutely adore, every day, all day, and that their lives will be filled with joy and bliss (cue the motivational soundtrack). But, I’ve got news for them, and perhaps, you—uh, no. It just ain’t that way. We call it work for a reason. Sometimes, it’s hard. It’s certainly not all pleasure. It’s all about seeing problems (or opportunities) and solving (or capitalizing on) them—generally, by the way—in the context of a team. And the fulfillment, the joy, comes from doing so. Burnout, however, is real and the key way to combat it is to appreciate the joy in your work while acknowledging and managing the inevitable stress that comes with it.
One challenge leaders and managers routinely face is to recognize when the people around them—peers, colleagues, but especially subordinates—are out of balance, or heading in that direction. While this imbalance will impact their personal lives, it can also have negative effects on their roles in the company. For these reasons, as a leader, you must try and address these imbalances before they get out of hand. If you’re paying attention, these situations are pretty hard to miss, because they nearly always manifest themselves in one of two ways: being at work too much or almost never. (Of course, I mean “at work” in the virtual sense, as well). Of the two, the first is harder to spot—because what manager doesn’t adore a dedicated worker, right?
But nobody can run at a crazy pace forever. You just can’t sustain it. Unfortunately, there’s a mind-set in the leadership of certain industries that you actually let people do that! You let them burn out, or quit, because you can always replace them, always find another cog to make the wheel turn.
One highly competitive industry (which I won’t call out by name) is notorious for this. It hires kids right out of college and works them like dogs for a few years. Those who can’t stand it get out, and the HR departments plan on the fact that in four to five years, only 15 to 20 percent of those young people will be able to hang in and start moving up the ranks toward leadership.
That’s their actual, working, do-it-every-day model! And, in my view, it’s just wrong. There are always going to be ultra-motivated climbers, and I’m not saying that ambition and drive are a bad thing, obviously. But exploiting it—to the detriment of the vast majority of your hires—that’s not just bad. It’s also a kind of laziness. We’re better than that, aren’t we?
At SailPoint, we have a cultural commitment to saying, “Look. In our company, that’s not the way it works. We’re going to expect a lot of you, but we don’t want you to fry yourself, or screw up your health, or screw up your young family if you have one, or your relationships, or whatever. Not only because of what it will do to you but because of what it’s going to do to us, too, in the long run.” If you have good people, ideally you’d grow them and keep them and help them work toward their vision of a healthy life-work balance—or, to put it another way, work-passion balance.
Sitting back in his dorm room doing the initial work that would eventually become Facebook, I am very confident that Mark Zuckerberg was having fun. But look at him now. Even with wealth beyond his wildest dreams, he has every government—in the free world, at least—breathing down his neck, and on any given day, no small number of unhappy users. Yes, he can insulate himself from these negatives—up to a point. But in the end, Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg. And a whole lot of hard work. And that’s where passion comes in.
Without it, do you think Zuck would go on? Or that he would have even come this far? There was a point at which Facebook became work for Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe it was while he was still in his dorm room. Maybe when it first began to grow beyond what he imagined to be its bounds. Maybe later. But whenever it first dawned on him that he’d created something with the potential to completely shift the way people connect with each other, I’ll bet he also figured out it was going to be REALLY hard at times. So, it’s very likely his next question was, “Am I really up for this?” And no matter what you may think of Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg, this much we know: he answered yes.
For me, this is where the rubber meets the road, and as I noted above, there are way too many young people expecting to find work that gives them great joy and great passion all day, every day. Then, upon realizing that their current job can’t do that, they quit and begin what, I promise, will be a never-ending quest. Here’s why. Accepting that life itself is hard work is required to develop that thing we call perseverance. And in doing so, you come to accept that, in every position, there will be some give and take between moments that feel like plain old hard work, and those where you feel impassioned.
Which brings me back to burnout and spotting it when it’s happening to your people. For the health of our company and our people, our job as leaders is to be on the lookout for the imbalance—both in ourselves and in our people. Because I truly believe that continually adjusting to find the balance between work and passion is fundamental to feeling fulfilled. It’s one reason why I wrote my book—Joy and Success At Work. My hope was to guide you in your own work life balancing act, and to help you grow as a leader who can help those around you maintain their balance as well.