As a psychotherapist and career counselor starting out in the mid-80’s, my biggest surprise has been how many people come in my office and complain not about their work, but about their dysfunctional workplace. They’ve talked and still talk about a lack of vision and organization among managers resulting in chaos and confusion, distrust among employees at all levels and cultures of toxicity that lead to high stress and health problems. A focus on productivity alone is behind decision-making that ignores a worker’s need for respect, to believe in what they do, manageable deadlines and a chance to speak out when problems occur.
I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said, “My company used to feel like family, it doesn’t anymore. I never see my manager and it seems I’m expected to do three jobs now.” Since I began my career, our country has seen the steady incorporation of management styles with an eye on short-term profits and efficiencies over quality. Not only has quality of life for employees suffered but it has wrecked havoc across industries from retail and health care to the manufacture of airplanes. Beginning in the early 1970’s a focus on paying profits to shareholders shifted the view of managers who were increasingly trained in MBA programs that emphasized financial gain for investors over benefits to customers, employees and community. Instead of creating full time jobs with health benefits, employee training, contributing to retirement funds and giving back to the community, we saw a trend to send good jobs overseas to increase short term dividends for shareholders.
My hope for future business dealings in Oregon and elsewhere stems from the way I see my clients and others put their deeper values and interests on the line in the workplace. From my socially oriented clients who prioritize wanting to “help people” to folks who want to “make something useful and beautiful for others,” I see many who want to care about what they do for a living. It seems to come naturally, as a part of a need to be our true selves in relation to the larger community.
“The promise of business is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service, creative invention and ethical philosophy. Business is the only mechanism on the planet today powerful enough to produce the changes necessary to reverse global environments and social degradation.” Paul Hawken
I agree with Paul Hawken, visionary, environmentalist, activist and entrepreneur; work is a place where we can change the world. But given the “eroding and precarious state of employment” (a phrase coined by Dr. David L. Bluestein,) as the impact of bean counters led by greed over the last several decades is felt more and more, it is the workplace itself that now needs our help.
Dr. Bluestein, an expert in the changes our economy is experiencing and author of soon to be published “The Impact of Work in an Age of Uncertainty: The Eroding Work Experience in America,” says a good way to keep a job today is to make caring and creativity your focus. He says this in part to steer those of us whose jobs are being taken over by robots into work that will always be around. But now there is another imperative, we must care and think at work if we are to maintain our very humanity and not turn into robots ourselves. David Graeber, in “Bullshit Jobs,” warns people negatively affected by their lack of meaning and purpose at work suffer from “depression, anxiety and a warped sense of values” and also points to “caring and creativity” as a way through our present dilemmas.
In closing I ask you, “What do you care about? What do you want to create?” And what might it look like if you were doing this at work? As I’m fond of saying, meaningful direction in career often starts as a small feeling, a feeling of caring, of being interested in something or falling in love with an idea. Trust your subjective experience. It is crucial to the process of discovering and growing your passions. As Barbara Sher, a well-known career author, says, “We are what we love.” You’ll soon notice a side benefit to caring and feeling more connected to others, a boost in self-confidence and a decrease in anxiety. So tune out any negative self-talk about your little idea not being important or good enough and get to work! The world is waiting.
Gail Jean Nicholson, MA, LPC
Divorce Coach / Personal and Career Counselor
1020 SW Taylor St Ste 350
Portland, OR 97205