The #1 Cost of Overwork is Personal Relationships

Is your career ruining your relationships?

There’s an old adage that no one ever said on his/her deathbed, “Gee, I wish I’d put more time in at the office.” Still, modern corporate life demands high-level performance for sustained periods.

Work has a tendency to capture people’s lives, leaving them out of focus and out of balance. Many people are working longer hours, often to the point of overlooking their individual needs: family, health, fitness, and home.

Is your career is ruining your relationships?

Personal relationships are often the first casualties of overwork. Hard workers are often in denial about the deterioration of their relationships. They unhesitatingly offer one of the many excuses that society seems to have sanctioned for overwork: “need to send the kids to private school,” “boss demands it,” “we’re experiencing quality problems and I’m making a good impression by firefighting”, “I’m keeping more patients alive,” and so forth. They are often the last to notice that their personal relationships are suffering.

As I mentioned in my article on willpower, many marriages go bad when stress at work is at its worst. This “muscle metaphor” for willpower, on a day-to-day basis, people use up all their willpower on the job; their home lives suffer because they give much to their work.

The time you do spend with your families can be more meaningful

'You Cant Predict a Hero' by Joseph Grano (ISBN 0470411678) Joe Grano, CEO of business consulting firm Centurion Holdings, used to work six days a week and almost every night. After years of slogging on Wall Street, his personal relationships worsened. Discussing how his ambition and long work hours led to his divorce (he had two daughters with his wife) in You Can’t Predict a Hero, Grano writes,

All successful, ambitious people are personally selfish to some degree. This goes beyond just the desire to pursue your self-interest in carving up the power and money in business. You can’t work the long hours that success requires and can’t set the individualistic priorities that ambition dictates without stealing somewhat from your loved ones. Some may think that a selfish perspective is rationalized with the rewards of money and prestige. Perhaps. But what if your loved ones don’t really care as much for those material rewards as you do? The truth is that successful people do what they do because they love doing it. The career is their passion, their mistress. It’s the adrenaline that drives their metabolism. The drive to spend those long hours working is as essential a part of their genetic makeup as is their DNA.

If you’re going to become a successful leader, you need to reconcile yourself to your own selfishness, not just the selfishness of others. Many of your peers will spend more time with their families than you do with yours. Finally, accept that the psychic rewards that come from your ambition and eventual success, while satisfying to you, may mean much less, if anything at all, to your loved ones. This is one of the prices of success. You’ll need to sacrifice on the amount of time you spend with your loved ones. Compensate by not sacrificing on the quality of that time.

Idea for Impact: Success doesn’t come without a price; neither does failure. With every choice comes consequences

What people really want and need is not work-life “balance,” but to live deeply satisfying lives both personally and professionally. The trick is a personal choice—to become more conscious of what and who matter most, and then to create the life you want.

Work-life balance isn’t so much about balance as it is about setting and living priorities. Remember, with every choice comes consequences.

A Little Known, but Powerful Technique to Fast Track Your Career: Theo Epstein’s 20 Percent Rule

Lessons on Career Advancement from 43 Year-old Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein

Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein's 20 Percent Rule for Career AdvancementTheo Epstein (b.1973), president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, has thus far had a stellar career as a sports executive.

As a freshman at Yale, Epstein was assertive enough to flaunt his role as a sports editor for the Yale student newspaper. After cold-contacting many professional sports teams to express interest in working for them, he grabbed the attention of a Yale alumnus at the Baltimore Orioles. This stroke of luck led to three consecutive summer-internships at the Orioles with increasing responsibilities.

After graduating from Yale with a degree in liberal arts, Epstein joined the Orioles full-time as a public relations assistant. His ingenuity caught the eye of Orioles President-CEO Larry Lucchino, who took Epstein under his wings. When Lucchino became team president of the San Diego Padres, he took Epstein and made him director of player development.

At Lucchino’s suggestion, Epstein also attended law school full-time whilst working 70 hour-weeks at the Padres. At that time, nobody on the small Padres’ management team had a law degree. By going to law school and getting a Juris Doctor degree, Epstein could help review players’ contracts. “Getting that seat at the table gave me the opportunity to be involved, and then my responsibilities grew from there,” he once recalled.

At age 28, Epstein moved again with Lucchino and joined the Boston Red Sox as general manager. In doing so, he became the youngest general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. Ten years later, in 2011, Epstein became president the Chicago Cubs.

At both the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, Epstein intelligently used complex statistical analytics to oversee the teams’ curse-breaking championships. In 2004, Epstein supervised the Red Sox’s sixth World Series Championship and ended their 86-year drought. And in 2016, when, under Epstein’s presidency, the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series Championship 108 years after the previous time they did, their triumph ended the longest drought in professional sports.

Theo Epstein’s 20 Percent Rule: Undertake Your Boss’s Less Glamorous Responsibilities

In a recent interview (22:31-minute mark in this “The Axe Files” podcast) with the University of Chicago’s David Axelrod, Epstein revealed a career advancement technique that helped fast-track his career at the Orioles, the Padres and the Red Sox:

Whoever your boss is, or your bosses are, they have 20 percent of their job that they just don’t like … So if you can ask them or figure out what that 20 percent is, and figure out a way to do it for them, you’ll both make them really happy, and improve their quality of life and their work experience. And also gain invaluable experience for yourself. If you do a good job with it, they’ll start to give you more and more responsibility.

Idea for Impact: Those Who Raise Their Hands Climb the Ladder Faster

Theo Epstein's 20 Percent Rule: Undertake Your Boss's Less Glamorous ResponsibilitiesHuman nature is such that everyone likes to do what he/she likes and not what should be done. If you can determine those aspects of your boss’ job that she hates and volunteer to help her with those responsibilities, you can expand your job’s horizons.

When you can seize such opportunities to raise your hand and sign up for tasks and responsibilities that aren’t particularly attractive, you not only learn by way of broader experiences and gain confidence, but also become more visible to management and situate yourself for a promotion. As I’ve written previously, before you can be seen as eligible for promotion, you should have demonstrated competence in doing a part of the new job you aspire to.

Seek out projects, prove that you’re eager and able to go the extra mile, and gain valuable face time with top executives.

Don’t Blatantly Imitate a Hero: Be Yourself

Heroes are very useful—they embody a higher plateau of truth, knowledge, and accomplishment that you can aspire to.

While admiring and drawing inspiration from heroes can be productive, blatantly imitating them is simply foolish.

Lei Jun, the Steve Jobs-mimicking chief of Chinese consumer electronics company Xiaomi

The black turtleneck syndrome

Consider Lei Jun, the Steve Jobs-mimicking chief of Chinese consumer electronics company Xiaomi. Jun has not only made Xiaomi the world’s fourth-largest smartphone maker by copying Apple’s products but also cultivated a blatant Jobsian likeness—right down to wearing dark shirts and jeans in the vein of Steve Jobs and mimicking his presentation style.

Lei Jun is not alone in taking this admiration of Steve Jobs beyond inspiration to blatant imitation. After reading Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography of Steve Jobs, many people started to actually think and act like Steve Jobs. Some have even embraced catchphrases like “one more thing,” the expression Jobs used in his presentations prior to introducing new Apple products.

You aren’t Steve Jobs, your company isn’t Apple, so why try to be Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs-mimicking Lei Jun of Xiaomi Undoubtedly, Steve Jobs was a determined and ambitious leader who created renowned products that transformed many industries. He intuitively understood what makes a compelling product, in both concept and design. He was a visionary and brilliant innovator who integrated insights from diverse disciplines and paid great attention to the design-details of Apple’s products and services. He was intensely focused, committed, confident enough to take risky leaps, and charismatic enough to enlist legions of employees and customers in the inexorable pursuit of his aspirations.

Those are all fine traits in the right context, but simply lifting them from Steve Jobs’s biography and imposing them on your employees will not necessarily yield Jobs-like results. You could sink your business if you blindly use Jobs’s or any other celebrity manager’s leadership style and behaviors in the wrong context, product, strategy, or market.

Imitation will not conjure success

'Winning' by Jack Welch, Suzy Welch (ISBN 0060753943) Long before Steve Jobs was Jack Welch, whom Fortune magazine dubbed “Manager of the Century” in 1999. Between 1981 and 2001, as General Electric’s CEO, Welch became a cult figure among American managers and leaders. By means of intellect, energy, and straight talk, Welch transformed the sleepy giant of General Electric (GE) into an international business powerhouse.

Jack Welch was widely regarded as the transformative manager’s archetype. Managers read his leadership playbook religiously and tried to imitate everything he did at GE—from his 20-70-10 “rank and yank” process to adopting six-sigma methods. These imitators often failed to realize that a number of factors contributed to the success of Welch’s techniques, not the least of which was the strong organizational culture and leadership philosophy he had established at GE. Managers simply will not successfully imitate Welch’s techniques without first establishing the organizational context that allowed for his initiatives’ success.

Idea for Impact: You can learn a lot from your heroes, but don’t emulate it all

Most intellectual, cognitive, and people skills are situational. That is to say that there is a time for Jack Welch’s techniques, another time for Steve Jobs’s techniques, and still other times for others’ techniques. The real skill lies in accumulating many ideas in your “brain attic” and then diagnosing your situations to apply the appropriate technique at the appropriate time.

You can learn a lot from your heroes, but don’t pattern your lives after them. See if some of the things they did will work for you. Develop your own style by focusing on what matters to you in your context. Don’t become second-rate versions of people you admire; instead be first-rate version of yourself.

What’s Behind Your Desire to Job-Hunt and Jump Ship

What's Behind Your Desire to Job-Hunt and Jump Ship

The primary motivations for seeking a new job are a more enjoyable job, better compensation, and opportunities for career progression. Talent management firm Caliper’s analysis of exit interviews from 180 companies confirmed that the principal reason employees quit their jobs is a lack of personal fulfillment and the feeling of not being well matched to their jobs. 40% of exit interviews complained about poor advancement potential, insufficient recognition, and not being challenged on the job. Just 26% mentioned wages and 11% mentioned workplace conflict.

Examine Your Motivations Before Job-Hunting

Many people who jump ship in frustration run into the same problems that were an obstacle with their previous employers. So, if you’re considering a change and seeking a new job because you’re not moving forward at your current job, first get honest feedback about how you’re perceived by your managers: what do they think your strengths are, where you need to develop, and what’s holding you back? Without such feedback on your career challenges, you may run into the same problems at your new employer.

You’ll find it easier to tackle career progression frustrations at your current employer in a familiar environment rather than at a new company where you’ll be under pressure to learn the ropes, form new relationships, produce results quickly, and work with superiors who may be less forgiving. Indeed, many people who change jobs fail or flame out at their new employers and don’t meet their job-change objectives after two years. Their premature departures and undue job-hopping reflects negatively on their career progress.

When You Must Seek a New Job

By all means, explore the job market in pursuit of career advancement if,

  • you’ve been passed over many times and haven’t been told how you need to develop to move ahead, or
  • you’ve been locked into your current job because of a long-tenured manager and can’t find another position within the same employer.

Be discreet about whom you tell that you’re looking for another job. When you find a new job, inform your boss immediately, give as much notice as required, and offer to help transition your duties to a replacement. Don’t use your new job offer to try to negotiate a counteroffer from your employer.

Better to Quit while You’re Ahead [Leadership Lessons]

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO If you are the CEO of a large public company and the news of your exit causes your company’s market cap to swell by $24 billion on the morning of this announcement, you’ve made the right call.

On 23-Aug-2013, Microsoft’s shares gained 8.9% in pre-market trading when the company announced that Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer would retire within the next twelve months. During Ballmer’s 13-year tenure as CEO, Microsoft continued its dominance over the traditional segments of computing, but could not grasp changing consumer preferences. Despite stellar profitability, strategic missteps have forced Microsoft to play catch-up as Apple, Google, and other competitors dominated the new world of mobile devices, social media, search, and internet advertising.

In interviews with Wall Street Journal, Ballmer admitted: “Maybe I’m an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on … As much as I love everything about what I’m doing, the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change.”

Successful professionals know when to make the move: While they are ahead

There is a time limit to success at any leadership position. If a leader is any good, after the initial rush of process improvements, business turnarounds, organizational transformations, and program initiations, familiarity sets into his job. At that point, diminishing returns set in: established routines, processes, and employee networks take over the execution of the change the leader might have initiated.

There is a natural cycle of rapid growth and sustenance to most leadership roles. Stay as long as you need to establish direction, put your ideas into action, and institute the momentum of change. Then, undertake new challenges in your existing job or explore new career opportunities. Plan ahead—the right opportunity may not emerge quickly.

Don’t Hang on

Another lesson from the imminent transition at Microsoft: when you find yourself in trouble and can’t seem to make an impact despite persistent attempts at change, do not wait to get the push. It may be difficult to let go, but don’t hang on.

There Isn’t a Shortcut to the Top

Good college basketball players are often persuaded not to turn pro during their junior years because, once they start professional basketball, they are expected to play regularly and will miss the chance to get extensive coaching and work on their fundamentals. Instead, they are encouraged to stay for another year at college and bear the opportunity costs.

Likewise, a sound understanding of the fundamentals of a business and worthwhile operating experience cannot be skipped.

The Fast Track to the Top May Look Attractive

Beware of the Shortcut to the Top Organizations are full of young high-performers who seem to have the right pedigree, are sharp and ambitious, and have impressed their managers with some early achievements. As soon as they have “proved” themselves, HR succession programs tend to fast-track high potentials to the next challenge even if they are not entirely prepared, thus unintentionally setting them up for stressful transitions, bitterness, or eventual failure.

In many instances, young employees are so determined to move up the corporate ladder quickly that they don’t remain in one position long enough to master the right skills and learn from mistakes. They thereby risk accumulating a very large gap in their knowledge and skills.

Idea for Impact: Work on the Fundamentals as You Build a Career

Before making your next career move, perform a realistic self-appraisal and consider how the move may support or impede your longer-term goals. See my previous article for a list of questions to assess your chance of a promotion or a lateral move.

One of the most important skills for career success is the ability to synthesize business requirements and adjust your management approach to the conditions at hand. Each new responsibility should involve an incremental challenge that requires new learning, new approaches, and a chance to demonstrate improvement in your managerial judgment. As a career coach, I recommend staying in one position for one or two business cycles to adequately learn about the nature of the business, test fresh approaches, impact the business, and get feedback on your work.

Furthermore, not all career moves need be up the ladder. Even though most careers follow an upward trajectory, many successful careers consist of a mixture of lateral and upward career moves, each with additional responsibilities or opportunities to build experiences in different market, product, or geographical contexts with prospects for promotion in the future.

Not Everybody Wishes to Climb the Corporate Ladder [Finding Work-Life Balance]

Climbing the Corporate Ladder You have probably met corporate people who are five to ten years from retirement and have remained in their bottom-of-the-ladder “contributor” roles (as engineers, programmers, accountants, salespersons, etc.) for decades. Don’t they typically report to managers 10 to 15 years their juniors? Ever wonder why they never assumed managerial or leadership roles? Are they simply incompetent or unenthusiastic? Enquire around and you may be surprised to learn that they may have perhaps never desired to climb the corporate ladder. You will possibly learn that,

  • They are not aimless. In reality, at some point in their careers, they made a conscious choice to not pursue the traditional career advancement paths and stay in their roles as “senior contributors.” Their dominant priorities lie elsewhere: usually with family, community, faith, and creative interests. They view their careers as means to other ends. They set goals for what they seek to achieve, create a plan, and relate to their values in the right way, everyday.
  • They are quite influential in their organizations. They gain credibility not by virtue of positions or titles, but from years of experience, awareness of processes and historical perspectives. They seek to mentor young engineers and offer their opinions and judgments when consulted by management. They gain an immense sense of satisfaction by helping their organizations grow. They are widely respected.
  • Their salaries are quite comparable to people who have identical spans of service in their organizations and have assumed leadership roles. They are highly valuable contributors.

The “senior contributors” are not the only ones who have shunned the corporate ladder. Many women choose to work three days a week once they have kids. Husbands of career-minded moms have relinquished their rewarding careers to become stay-at-home dads and support their wives’ careers. Frequently, executives decline international assignments that could keep them away from family. All these people tend to feel in command of their life and career — they are more contented in their careers and have a stronger sense of work-life balance. For sure, they can teach the rest of us a thing or two about setting the course of our lives.

The long-hours culture is not for everybody

The long-hours culture is not for everybody

A successful corporate career demands a high-level of performance for sustained periods You probably recollect the days when corporate people had reasonably secure jobs, showed up at work every workday, clocked in, worked eight hours, clocked out, stopped thinking about work until the next workday, and enjoyed four weeks of vacation a year. They could maintain a healthy separation between work and personal time. Alas, those days are long over.

In today’s workplace, the demands on our energy, time, and creativity constantly overwhelm us, despite access to technology, computers, and other productivity tools. We have so much on our plates that we only rarely complete things WHEN and AS we would wish to. The workday is longer, the pace of work is faster, and most projects tend to be open-ended. The pressure to learn new skills is prominent. A successful corporate career demands a high-level of performance for sustained periods. At what cost, though? Unsurprisingly, the pressure to work harder and longer results in poor physical health, stress, anxiety, lesser time with family and friends, fewer opportunities to pursue hobbies and creative interests, and insufficient rest and relaxation.

Work or life or both — its your choice

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
* Henry David Thoreau

There is no magic potion or canned method for balancing your work and life. Finding balance is rather an exercise in finding a healthy perspective that works for you. Nobody but you can make the right choices and work out what is best for you to bring about a sense of satisfaction of physical, mental, financial, intellectual, professional, and social well-being.

Finding Work-Life Balance

Everyone has to find his or her own individual balance

The quest for work-life balance begins with defining what balance means to you. Reflect on what you value most in life and prioritize them. Include your family in your contemplations of choices and consequences. Establish a set of boundaries between an adequate amount of effort and return. Consider your personal and professional aspirations, the family and social life you desire, your hobbies and interests and your goals and dreams.

Ask yourself, “How much is adequate?” and, “How much success and money is good enough?” Set boundaries and limits between what you must do and what you want to achieve in the short term and in the long term. The choices you make and your ability to respect the limits your set for yourself should shape your work and career, not the other way around.

Explore alternate arrangements at work

After you reflect on what could constitute a sense of individual balance for you, examine your career objectives. Once you are clear about what you want, consider the potential consequences to your employer. Discuss your options and proposals with a trusted advisor, the human resources / personnel department, and your boss. Most companies care for their employees enough to offer options for part-time or flexible schedules, working from home or sabbaticals.

Lead a life to your own script, not to others’

The world will shape your life, if you let it. Establish what you want to achieve in your life; do not let others impose their proposals for you. Make the right choices and live true to your values. This is, in essence, the key to finding the illusive work-life balance.

Ready for a Promotion?


Promotions Can be Stressful

Promotions Can be Stressful Last year, researchers at the University of Warwick found that the mental health of managers typically deteriorates after a job promotion.  Part of this anxiety is attributable to,

  1. the loss of the security of a familiar role and the established relationships around the role,
  2. perceived cognitive inadequacies concerning demands of the new position, and,
  3. the uncertainty of transition and the innate human resistance to change.

The greater part of this anxiety is a common career mistake. Often, professionals take up new responsibilities for which they are not entirely prepared. Even when management judged them as qualified for the new role, without thinking through a new role before accepting the promotion, these professionals unintentionally position themselves for stressful transitions, bitterness, or eventual failure.

When Is It Time to Move On?

Do not assume that you are ready for a promotion just because you possess the right academic background, you look the part, you have the right contacts within the company, or, you have impressed your management with your capability to develop a few good ideas and articulate them well.

Here are a few questions to reflect on and assess your chance of a successful promotion or a horizontal transition.

  • Are you enthusiastic about taking on a new role? Does the new role fit into your medium- and long-term career plans?
  • Have you been performing your present duties well enough to justify a promotion?
  • Do you have a successor in mind for your current role? Have you made yourself replaceable? Are you willing to entrust your current responsibilities to a successor without a significant interruption in pace of work?
  • Ready for Promotion When Is It Time to Move On Are you qualified or experienced enough to do no less than, say, 40% of the new role reasonably well?
  • Have you demonstrated eagerness to gain knowledge of the new responsibilities?
  • Are you familiar with the responsibilities, autonomy, challenges, opportunities, and deliverables of the new role? Do you know how to get things done in the new role? Do you know where to get help?
  • Are you proficient with the communication, networking and interpersonal skills needed to make it in the new role? Will you get along with your peers, subordinates, and management at the new role?
  • Are you at ease with the demands on the new role: time, travel, pressures, and challenges? Can your family (or other aspects of your personal life) support this transition?
  • Can you swallow your pride if you are rejected for the new role? Are you ready to seek honest feedback about how management values you, listen, and make yourself more promotable in the future?

The more questions you answer with a “Yes” to, the better your chances for a successful promotion. Reflect on the questions you answer with a “No” to. Create a growth plan, improve your professional profile, and, ask for feedback from management on what you can do deserve a promotion.

Job Interviewing #2: Interviewing with a Competitor of your Current Employer

Blog reader Ranganathan from Toronto, Canada asks, “I am interviewing with a competitor of my current employer. Most of my work at my current employer is confidential. How do I describe these projects in the upcoming interview?”

Ethics and Responsibilities

Interviewing with a Competitor of Current Employer: Ethics, Responsibilities Your employers, both current and former, expect you to treat sensitive and confidential information ethically. Accordingly, you must not disclose such information outside the company—in an interview, trade show or party at home.

During an interview with a competitor of your current or former employer, describe your past projects and accomplishments in terms of concepts and particulars that are public knowledge. If the interviewer presses for additional information, be diplomatic and decline to present confidential information. Interviewers will appreciate your reluctance.

Beware of a Trap: Test for Integrity

Interviewing with a Competitor of Current Employer: Test for Integrity Public trust and ethical behavior are vital to organizational and individual success. Recent corporate scandals have underscored the need for organizations to build and foster ethical business environments. Organizations are therefore inclined to select employees who share such moral values.

Good corporate ethics policies prohibit current employees from disclosing proprietary information from/about their former employers. In asking you for sensitive information, the interviewer is probably setting up a trap for you—the interviewer may be checking if you demonstrate a high degree of integrity and professional conduct.

Declining to provide proprietary information will demonstrate your consideration of the ethical consequences of your actions. Consequently, you will earn the respect of the interviewer.

Dissatisfied at Work? Are You Really a Square Peg in a Round Hole?

Dissatisfied at Work? Are You Really a Square Peg in a Round Hole?

If you are not happy at work, you may believe that your dissatisfaction is rooted in your position—in the relationships, the workflows and the demands of the role. You may feel that if you were in a different position or were associated with another organization, you would be more content.

However, there is a good chance that the problem is not with your position per se, but with your attitudes toward various elements of work-life: people you interact with, responsibilities, bureaucracy, office politics, etc. You may not have realized and/or capitalized on the various opportunities that the current position presents.

  • If you feel your work is not challenging enough or if you do not sense career progression, you can request additional responsibilities at work. You can analyze colleagues who have succeeded in similar positions and learn from them. If you want to be promoted, you could assume some of the responsibilities of the position you desire.
  • Even if you do not like your boss, colleagues, subordinates or customers, you still need to get along with them by being open-minded or by discovering common ground. In extreme cases, you need to accept that people will not change and just suck up, no matter how frustrating their actions are.
  • If you want to change to another line of work, you need to realize that the grass on the other side of the fence always looks greener until you jump over. There is no guarantee that the new position or the new organization will be any better. There will be a considerable lead-time to reestablish yourself in the new workplace before you can be eligible to move up. Organizations realize that there is a significant penalty to losing an experienced person and are likely to accommodate your needs and aspirations.

Professional success is often not simply a matter of choosing the right career path or the right company, although these are important factors. The attitudes you bring to your work-life define your career development and contentment. Change your attitudes, adjust, discover opportunities available and thrive in the given circumstances.