Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Happy Workaholic: A role model for employers

by Stewart Friedman and Sharon Lobel

Jobs Vacancy, Employment, Job Vacancies

Business books are filled with common-sense admonitions insisting that leaders be role models. We have reason to question whether this common wisdom is truly wise.

Can a workaholic executive be an advocate for something that does not mirror her own personal lifestyle choices without appearing hypocritical? The executive we call the "Happy Workaholic" values work over other activities and invests her time and energy accordingly. Contrary to popular belief, "Happy Workaholics" can advocate for employees to realize both their company’s goals and what matters to them in their personal lives. They serve as role models, not for "balance" in the usual sense but, rather, for authenticity.

Authenticity means knowing what you truly care about and devoting your attention and activities to these ends. Research indicates that people find a sense of fulfillment from being true to themselves. Happy Workaholic executives know that when employees feel fulfilled in all aspects of their lives then they are better able to add value to their companies.

We conducted about 100 interviews in 25 organizations over a period of 4 years (1999-2002) to find out how Happy Workaholics, who willingly subjugate personal priorities for the sake of their careers, create and sustain cultures in their businesses that support employees’ fulfillment of work and personal life goals. How do they do it? Here’s a summary of what we found.

In one-to-one interactions with their people, Happy Workaholics respect diverse choices about work and personal life, talk to employees about what matters most, help employees take responsibility for their choices, and foster trust. They:

  • Assume responsibility for helping employees act on their values and priorities
  • Make it easy for employees to discuss personal life challenges when necessary
  • Get to know people on a personal level
  • Stay abreast of employees’ personal priorities and ask about them

Happy Workaholic executives also engender support for their employees through system-wide actions. They broadcast their advocacy for authenticity (making work and personal life choices that are aligned with one’s values and priorities); tell their own stories publicly; question basic assumptions about how, where, and when work gets done; actively encourage innovation in the design of work; focus on results, not process; and change performance management systems to support authenticity. Happy Workaholics:

  • Sponsor discussions that address the impact of the organization’s culture on the expression of diverse core values with respect to work and personal life
  • Incorporate support for both work and personal life in the organization’s mission statement, vision, operating principles and management practices
  • Provide resources, financial and political, needed for successful change efforts
  • Make sure everyone feels free to speak up about new ways of getting things done
  • Recognize and reward employees for identifying inefficient work practices
  • Ensure that workloads are manageable
  • Hold employees accountable for results, not face time at the office

A new generation of senior executive men and women is on the rise. They represent greater diversity in the choices executives make about how they lead their lives at work, at home, in the community, and for themselves. Our bet is that the market for talent increasingly will favor organizations with the highest proportions of authentic executives. Which type dominates yours?

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