“I hate my boss” is a common refrain we hear from friends and relatives.
Unfortunately, corporate work experiences can quickly change into unhealthy situations in which your unique knowledge, skills, and opinions are suddenly labeled by your superior as worthless, often due to internal politics and misunderstandings. It happened to me once when I worked as a marketing guy for a medical device manufacturing company.
This (unnamed) company had spent at least a year or two developing a high-tech diagnostic instrument that essentially did not work. The lead engineer had resigned. I had a conversation with him just prior to him leaving in which he told me that the company was pursuing a pipe dream. Regardless, we were getting ready to roll this baby out because to not do so would be a blatant acceptance of utter defeat. All those dollars spent on R & D would go down the toilet.
So, we are in a sales meeting and the head sales guy is giving all the sales staff and me instructions on how to define and promote this unworthy device in a way that makes it seem to be the best thing to happen in the world of medical diagnostic instruments. I’m listening intently, thinking, “this is really dangerous; people’s health and well-being could be jeopardized through the instrument’s obvious proclivity to misdiagnose.” Even one machine-based misdiagnosis would be unacceptable, and this machine was misdiagnosing like crazy and was simply not ready for prime time.
I was increasingly stewing in my seat. I spoke out against the roll out, probably in a self-righteous tone that no doubt irritated the head sales guy, and he said to me in no uncertain terms: “It is not your place to make these kinds of decisions. Just do your job.” Not long after this incident I resigned for a wide variety of reasons. Worse, I really could not afford to quit my job, which paid pretty well and had all the great benefits that I needed to support my young family.
Fortunately, I weathered that storm, but it took a while. I transitioned to self-employment, and the first two years of this transition were extraordinarily difficult and challenging.
The message I am trying to impart here is that to keep your job may require that you give up a piece of your personal integrity and honesty – something that is unfortunately very common among many employees who are forced to become blind followers of horrible bosses.
Oftentimes people are forced to say, “oh, it’s just a bad boss. No big deal. Not an uncommon situation. It will pass. In the meantime, just suck it up and do whatever the boss asks, even if it‘s unnecessarily time- consuming and totally disorganized and senseless. Be humble and quiet, because revealing or complaining about the boss’s ineptness and general disrespect will only get you in trouble and ultimately fired.”
Too Many People in Similar Situations
There’s more than enough articles about bad bosses. A simple Google search on the term “bad boss” brings an astounding amount of literature from reputable publishers revealing the enormity of this problem in today’s workforce.
Dan Pink is the author of “Drive,” and another book that I enjoyed reading some time back, titled “A Whole New Mind.” In producing “Drive,” Pink researched the topic of human motivation and discovered that high work performance and satisfaction depends on three elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In other words, if you want to have happy and motivated employees, you have to let them direct their own work lives, give them the wherewithal to learn new things, and have them serve a greater purpose other than their selves. He shows one example after another that proves this point quite convincingly, including a Cornell University study of 320 small businesses – half that practiced giving their employees more autonomy and the other half under the typical top-down management style. Guess what? The ones that practiced autonomy grew at four times the rate of the top-downers and had far less employee turnover.
I have read a good number of books that strongly support this notion of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as key elements that make people happier because of the intrinsic rewards they can bring into their lives as opposed to material rewards. Incidentally, Pink further notes that studies show that people become more motivated to produce positive outcomes if given these three elements over a raise or promotion. So, companies can not only become more productive but also save money in the process if they practice this work philosophy.
Obstacles on the Educational Pathway
Another related book worth noting is “A Life at Work” by another one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Thomas Moore. This is an uplifting book that was written for people who are seekers, always on the lookout for how to make their lives more autonomous, masterful and purposeful, in line with their true ambitions and spiritual selves. It’s a short 180 pages, and I read it whenever I need a lift because it is a simple affirmation of what life is really all about. You can, indeed, become the person you were meant to be, and there will always be obstacles along that pathway that you need to experience in order to discover your purpose. That’s how I now look at several corporate experiences I had years ago – they were merely learning-based obstacles along the educational pathway of what I really wanted to do with my life and work.
Moore explains how many people are working in jobs he refers to as small in scope and so insignificant that they do not allow them to engage in their higher ideals. He says that staying in such a job freezes your spirit; you become stagnant, and you wind up retrogressing and unengaged in the visionary aspects of living. “The spirit can be shackled and crushed by the weight of forces that give you money to live on but no opportunity to make progress with your ambitions and ideals. This crushing of the spirit is another form of depression related to work, and it is commonplace.” Moore adds that “to mature as a person you have to take considerable time sorting through, taking to heart, and resolving the mistakes and failures that have marked your progress.”
So, if you are in an unhealthy job, take some solace in knowing that it is only temporary and that eventually you will figure out how to create the changes you need to move forward in a way that is more conducive to your more authentic and worthy calling.
Daniel H. Pink (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
Thomas Moore (2008). A life at work: The joy of discovering what you were born to do. New York, NY: Broadway Books.