It’s bad when you call out of work because the thought of going in is insupportable. And it’s even worse when all you do on that new-found day is wretch about having to go back tomorrow. This is exactly the situation I was in many years ago after I’d taken the wrong job for the wrong reasons. Luckily, on that day, came the call— someone knew someone who knew someone I’d worked for who recommended me for a managing editor position.
“Do you think this is something that might interest you?”
“Possibly.” (Hell, yes!)
Fast-forward seven years to this week, specifically, as I write this column, Labor Day morning. Last Friday, I told my wife I’d have to put in a few hours on the holiday. After hearing the news and immediately securing the services of her mother to help watch the children, all was right with the world. But what about me? Was all right with me? Was I — as I drove down deserted streets toward the empty parking lot of an empty office building — having a repeat performance of my earlier wretching? I mean, it’s one thing to work when everyone else is working, but to be excluded from the reprieve most Americans were enjoying, was I bitter?
You know the answer, and an examination of just what made me perfectly content to work on Labor Day holds keys to helping you become both a happier employee and manager. In short, to the degree that you can mimic the dynamics enjoyed by the owner, you may achieve the same increase in job satisfaction I experienced.
- Work/income connection — In no situation is the link between effort and reward tighter than in the case of the owner. Coming in a distant second is the salesperson who works on a commission structure and, far behind, the employee whose reward it tied to some group result (company profitability, etc.) over which they have little direct influence. To the degree you can more tightly couple the cause and effect relationship between effort and reward, effort will increase.
- Credit/ownership —In the case of editors, this is pretty straightforward, as our names go on almost all the stories we write. In other cases, making this happen requires more work. To the degree people know they will be credited, even just appreciated, for the work they are doing, they will do it with all the more care and attention. And if they are truly made owners of specific and concrete projects or spheres of responsibility — with little oversight and the ability to rise or fall on their own— they will put in whatever extra time is necessary to make sure all comes right.
- Flexible schedule — Perhaps one of the reasons I don’t mind working on a holiday is because I know I’ll take the time back when the workload allows it. I’m not concerned that if I work when I’m entitled to be off, I’ll simply be left holding the bag. There is a load of work to do, and how I balance that load is totally up to me. To the degree you can allow your people flexibility in their scheduling, they will pay you back tenfold.
- Personal integrity — One of the main reasons I take pride in my work is because no one forces me to compromise it. This was not always so in past lives. To the degree that people must compromise their personal code of values to conform with a stated (or more likely unstated) corporate culture, their enthusiasm for the work will diminish.
Having experienced both the peaks and valleys of work satisfaction, having known that black hole-like pit in the stomach which makes its regular Sunday night rounds among the disenchanted, I am in a position to relish its absence. While, for most, becoming the owner is impracticable, efforts can be made to replicate the dynamic which makes that role so satisfying to its occupant. Even if you never have to work on Labor Day, such efforts will make all your others seem like holidays.