The week@work – the war for talent, following vs. leading, exhaustion, and maybe we should ask a sociologist

The last state to approve the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was Indiana in 1977 – until Thursday when Nevada ratified the ERA, thirty-five years after the deadline imposed by Congress. It was a welcome antidote to the White House photo of the freedom caucus taken the same day (above). Any odds on an extension to revisit and ratify?

“Nevada has given NOW President Terry O’Neill new cause for hope. “Now it’s a two-state strategy,” she tells the Times. “It’s very exciting. Over the past five years, Illinois and Virginia have come close. I think there is clear interest in this.

In other stories this week@work, journalists and experts provided an update on the ‘war for talent’, offered an argument for balancing followers with leaders in the workplace, and expressed concern with a ‘gig economy’ advertising campaign that seemed to glorify exhaustion@work.  The last story this week@work re-examined an idea from the 60’s to establish a Council of Social Advisers to complement the Council of Economic Advisers in D.C. “It’s not just work; it’s how work offers a sense of purpose and identity.”

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Adam Yearsley believe ‘The War for Talent Is Over, And Everyone Lost’. They cite workplace trends indicating more passive job seekers, the appeal of self-employment and the lure of entrepreneurship as competitive factors for employers to attract the best and the brightest, and offer a few best practices to turn things around.

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“In 1998, after a year-long study on the subject, McKinsey researchers declared that a “war for talent” was underway. In the years ahead, they said, organizations’ future success would depend on how well they could attract, develop, and retain talented employees–an ever more valuable asset in ever higher demand.

Instead of winning a war for talent, organizations appear to be waging a war on talent, repelling and alienating employees more successfully than harnessing their skills.

Today, in a world full of many more Chief People and Chief Happiness Officers, that war nevertheless appears to have been lost on all sides. Of course, many workers excel in their jobs and make pivotal contributions to their organizations. But for every one employee who does, there are many more who are underemployed, underperforming, and just plain miserable at work.”

One of the employer prescriptions for success is to “stop developing people’s leadership skills”.

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“…research suggests there’s a strong negative correlation between the amount of money spent on leadership development (which in the U.S. totals over $14 billion a year), and people’s confidence in their leaders. One of the reasons is that leaders are often deprived of negative feedback, even in training programs. We’ve gotten so used to coaching to people’s strengths that weaknesses get left unaddressed. The basics of human psychology magnify that issue; people are already prone to judging their own talents way too favorably, especially after experiencing a measure of success.”

Which links neatly into the next story of the week@work, Susan Cain‘s ‘Not Leadership Material? Good.The World Needs Followers.’

“Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of “leadership skills” is to the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply. The difference between the two states of mind is profound. The latter belongs to transformative leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi; the former to — well, we’ve all seen examples of this kind of leadership lately.”

Jia Tolentino used Fiverr’s new ad campaign to illustrate ‘The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself To Death’.

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“It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news. Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur”—as its name suggests, services advertised on Fiverr can be purchased for as low as five dollars—recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.” One ad, prominently displayed on some New York City subway cars, features a woman staring at the camera with a look of blank determination. “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”

A Fiverr press release about “In Doers We Trust” states, “The campaign positions Fiverr to seize today’s emerging zeitgeist of entrepreneurial flexibility, rapid experimentation, and doing more with less. It pushes against bureaucratic overthinking, analysis-paralysis, and excessive whiteboarding.” This is the jargon through which the essentially cannibalistic nature of the gig economy is dressed up as an aesthetic.”

Maybe we need a few less economists and a few more humanists to address our life@work

There was a lot of discussion in the media this weekend in the wake of the health care bill defeat. What are the lessons learned? We might ask the same question about the November election result, only this time maybe we should be consulting with sociologists vs. economists. Neil Irwin asked “What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?”.

“For starters, while economists tend to view a job as a straightforward exchange of labor for money, a wide body of sociological research shows how tied up work is with a sense of purpose and identity.

“Wages are very important because of course they help people live and provide for their families,” said Herbert Gans, an emeritus professor of sociology at Columbia. “But what social values can do is say that unemployment isn’t just losing wages, it’s losing dignity and self-respect and a feeling of usefulness and all the things that make human beings happy and able to function.

…the economic nostalgia that fueled Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign was not so much about the loss of income from vanishing manufacturing jobs. Rather, it may be that the industrial economy offered blue-collar men a sense of identity and purpose that the modern service economy doesn’t.”

At the beginning of this new week@work consider where work fits in your sense of identity and purpose. It’s not just work.

 

The Saturday Read ‘The Geography of Bliss’ by Eric Weiner

The Saturday Read this week is ‘The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World’, by former NPR correspondent and self-described philosophical traveler, Eric Weiner. It’s a travelogue of personal discovery with a universal  message, “where we are is vital to who we are”.

Early in his career decision process, Weiner decided travel was a necessary component to success – free travel. He started out as a foreign correspondent, going to some of the most unhappy global places. After a number of years covering conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia he decided it was time to consider the alternative, the happy places.

“What if, I wondered, I spent a year traveling the globe, seeking out not the world’s well-trodden trouble spots but, rather, its unheralded happy places? Places that possess, in spades, one or more of the ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty stew of happiness: money, pleasure, spirituality, family and chocolate, among others.”

And we’re off. First to the Netherlands and the World Database of Happiness to meet Ruut Veenhoven, Professor of Happiness Studies.

Veenhoven was a graduate student in sociology when he found his calling in a new discipline, happiness studies. In a career story that may resonate with others in academia, he describes a meeting with his advisor. He was interested in the study of healthy minds and happy places. “His advisor, a sober man with solid academic credentials, told him, in no uncertain terms, to shut up and never mention that word again. Happiness was not a serious subject…Today, Veenhoven is at the forefront of a field that churns out hundreds of research papers each year.”

By simply asking folks if they are happy, researchers have found:

“Extroverts are happier than introverts; optimists are happier than pessimists; married people are happier than singles, though people with children are no happier than childless couples; Republicans are happier than Democrats; people who attend religious services are happier than those who do not; people with college degrees are happier than those without, though people with advanced degrees are less happy than those with just a B.A….people are least happy when commuting to work; busy people are happier than those with too little to do; wealthy people are happier than poor ones, but only slightly.”

Before returning home to the U.S., Weiner traveled to Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, and India. Finding your bliss is subjective, but deeply rooted in culture.

“The glue that holds the entire enterprise together is culture.”  He embarked on an odyssey to find happiness, and discovered one of the key elements to success in life and work.

“…where we are is vital to who we are.”

“By ‘where’, I’m speaking not only of our physical environment but also of our cultural environment. Culture is the sea we swim in – so pervasive, so all-consuming, that we fail to notice its existence until we step out of it. It matters more than we think.”

Each new chapter invites the reader to experience another place, a new culture, citizens adapting to change, and challenges preconceived notions of the happiest places.

Sitting in an airport bar at the end of his journey, Weiner reflects on what he has learned. “Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude…Happiness is not a noun or a verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.”

The shelves of bookstores are brimming with self help tomes on happiness. Eric Weiner’s global journey sets this book apart from the competition, transporting the reader on a round trip from domestic familiarity to places of contrasting mindsets, and back. It’s the perfect book for a winter read.