I can be no longer be gentle about the chronic stress associated with the work-life merge, and how it’s killing the human spirit at work. This week I was fortunate to spend an entire day at The #ThirdMetric Conference hosted by Arianna Huffington. She has thrust a gargantuan spotlight onto the issue of the new world of work, the stressors associated with it and the need to redefine success, as we know it.
“We all have this place inside of us a place of strength harmony and wisdom, but most of the time we don’t live there. How can we course-correct faster? How can we encourage each other to live in that place more?” ~Arianna Huffington
For 15 years I’ve been tracking an emerging era I call the Human Capital Zeitgeist which I wrote about at Forbes last year. I’m thrilled that Arianna has catapulted the conversation beyond the deaf ears of big business into the mainstream media bringing us to the tipping point.
For the past year I have been sitting on this Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto. There have been many iterations, and this is part of a much larger body of work. It’s time to raise the bar on this conversation and come clean with the pink elephant in the boardroom.
The world of work has changed. We need to better handle chronic stress at work, we must learn to differentiate between good and bad stress, and we need to attain bliss or meaning in our work – even if we don’t like our jobs.
Placing greater value on the well-being of our talent pool is the only way to evolve in an uncertain marketplace, and fuel the kind of creativity and innovation needed to compete globally. As Arianna has said, we must define success beyond money and power – and embrace well-being, wisdom and wonder. Valuing human capital is the smart thing to do as business leaders, and it’s the right thing to do as human beings.
The Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto
“Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark raving mad.”
- Russian Novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Well-being at work is threatened with extinction. The new world of work is governed by expanding technology, exponentially increasing demands, and a changing workforce that strives to be successful in an always-on competitive marketplace which values money, power and fame above the human condition.
Tethered to technology in the work-life merge which has been thrust upon us, we are precariously teetering between the polarities of stress: the burnout kind and the euphoric kind that can trigger innovation, especially in a knowledge economy.
As never before, it seems we are faced with a cruel choice between overworking ourselves miserably to pay the bills at the expense of our well-being, and taking risks to satisfy our own deep desire to move toward a more joyful and blissful state of vocation that fuels our humanity and connection to a larger purpose.
In his 1995 book, The Reinvention of Work: The New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time, revolutionary theologian Matthew Fox offered this message as a harbinger of things to come:
“The task needed in every profession, and indeed by every citizen today, is to return wisdom to our work…. If we are not being served truth and justice as regular fare at work, then no matter how well we are fed materially, we will starve spiritually.”
Now, nearly two decades later, there is a new urgency to recalibrate our mindset around meaningful work and success. From the C-suite to the rank and file, so many are overwhelmed, burned out and in danger of becoming passionless droids. The way we work has changed, work stress is misunderstood and mismanaged, and the concept of embracing a calling has been thrown under the bus, as so many are disenchanted with their working experience and see no way out.
Getting Into the Flow
We’re starving for a workplace culture and the individual internal conditions that allow for an emergent state of flow - where work is done with the kind of focus, intention and purpose that results in a feeling of satisfying accomplishment. Chronic work stress impedes this process threatening creativity and innovation which is crucial to compete.
But how can exhausted stressed-out employees enter the kind of rapture, immersion and positive energized focus in ones work that Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about? The kind of flow which triggers challenge, sparks creativity and elicits a sense of a larger contribution. That point where your challenges meet your skills, in “the zone.”
“Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Such work when in the flow is a mindful extension of ones personal values and skills, amplification of individual core energy and unique creative prowess. In a perfect world, it’s being in a vortex with the ability to tap a unique set of skills against the backdrop of an inexhaustible inner passionate drive.
The Veritas Principle
Mired in what I refer to as the work-life merge – navigating distractions and painfully deciding where to focus our attention – getting into the flow becomes quite the challenge. From my perspective, you can steward your own entre into the flow by embracing what I call ones Veritas; an inner pool of vitality that has you working at your highest potential energetically, nestled in vocational bliss and passion, while staying grounded in your daily work-life responsibilities.
Regardless of employee assistance programs, we are individually charged with integrating these components of passion and responsibility without burning out in the workplace. That means developing the core energy within oneself. In Yoga it’s known as Prana, in the martial arts communities it’s called Chi, the ancient Greek alchemists called it Quintessence, in Star Wars – yup – it’s called The Force. Yoda, the all-knowing sage in Star Wars demonstrated a mindset that engaged the force and ignited the creative impulse of the universe of which we are all part – in his workday (granted it wasn’t a cubicle, but you get the message).
Essentially the Veritas Principle rides on the ebb and flow of ones inner force. So, by cultivating resilience, one can create a cumulative tank of fuel that can be tapped in a moment of high stress, or ignited with the unique creative impulse within. Even at work we can develop skills to release tension, increase mental clarity and create calm making the workday easier to digest.
Human Beings at Work
We must take efforts to remember that we are human beings – living a work experience. And within that experience we must embrace the ethos of our Veritas: the truth of who we are at our core, as creative human beings. Turning toward the very thing we have been programmed to forget and leave behind, gives the much-needed oxygen to the unique voice, pulse and rhythm that has been quieted.
The drive to expand our creativity at work and advance our careers has been crushed and/or left behind in the struggle to keep up in the new complex world of work and managing the integration of our working and living experience, which can cause enormous stress.
We have to refine our mindset around the interconnectedness of Work, Stress and Bliss in this new workplace era which I call The Human Capital Zeitgeist: a socio-economic and cultural shift defined by an emerging recognition that talent well-being is the kingpin to competing in a volatile marketplace. So much so, that big business might actually have to throw a bit more respect at the “human” in the human capital equation.
Deconstructing the Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto:
“We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”
~ Edward O. Wilson, Harvard Evolutionary Biologist
The New World of Work
Work and Life are no longer separate: By default we’re now living a work-life merge. Exhausted, over extended, uncertain about the future, and trepidacious to draw a line and define boundaries for fear of being replaced, scrutinized, or penalized in some way, a revolution in thought and behavior is coming down the pike that will upset the apple cart and force new ways of doing things.
Work lingers beyond the doors of the workplace as technological advancements happen at a rate that is difficult to monitor, let alone keep up with. 24/7 connectivity is the new normal, but we must adapt from a place of wisdom not react instantly from a place of fear.
We are living in an era of instant information and immediate gratification - in real time. The added challenges include operating in an uncertain hi-tech marketplace that changes on a dime exposing companies to risk with a potential tweet. But clearly among the greatest risks are eroding engagement, dubious presenteeism and the overall lack of well-being within the talent pool.
- 86% of workers plan to find new jobs in 2013 (Inc.com,2013)
- Just 47% of workers are satisfied with their jobs (Conference Board, 2012)
- Lost productivity due to employee disengagement costs more than $300 billion in the U.S. annually (Gallup)
It’s time to sound the alarm, for big business and entrepreneurs alike, to realize they are on a treadmill toward a demise in productivity and innovation. The way we work- the 40 plus hour-week, increasing workload, no work-life balance, opting out of lunchtime and vacation inevitably leads to chronic stress, the consequences of which are serious health issues, poor engagement and weak productivity. The mindset of overwork in the context of our 24/7 hi-tech marketplace will never sustain growth.
The world of work has changed so drastically that we’re stuck in a minefield of cognitive dissonance which I call the Work-Life Technology Paradox. The same technology that allows us to keep in touch with our family, also allows the workplace and breaking news from across the globe, to invade our lives. And it all happens in real time, with no apologies.
The Stress Conundrum
“Now that we’re in the digital age, all bets are off about what’s going to happen with stress because we’ve introduced entirely new levels of stress into our lives. The stress of information processing, and the speed at which things are going.”
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. Founding Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at UMass.
Work stress vacillates between short sprints of stressful circumstances (external and internal workplace stressors) to the pervasive, insidious chronic stress that can’t be turned off. Stress can be harnessed for good, but it can also destroy. It can act as a catalyst fueling motivation for change and innovation or be the devil incarnate that chronically eats away at the mind, body and soul at work.
Healthcare data, neuroscience research, and management studies support this concept. But if workers don’t have the tools or mindset to change their perception of stress, manage long-term stress, or learn to cultivate resilience – chronic stress at work renders employees ineffective, unproductive and pained.
- 65% of workers cite work as a significant source of stress (APA, 2013)
- Burned out employees develop heart problems at a 79% higher rate than less stressed out workers. (Tel Aviv University)
- 98% of employers that measure employee well-being say stress is a workforce issue. ( Towers Watson, UK 2013)
When not managed, stress fueled by resentment at work, anxiety about competition, lack of control, job uncertainty, financial insecurity and work overload - as opposed to the good kind gleaned from inspiration, motivation or a good old-fashioned deadline – will sabotage success, happiness, innovation and creativity.
But how can we be successful, happy, innovative and creative in the workplace, when we can’t get quiet enough to get a handle on stress? It’s an underlying concern, impacting a crucial bottom-line issue. So this delicate rhythm of opposing stresses, the good kind that challenges – and the chronic kind that undermines performance, is a concept that needs some more exploration.
When you “feed” your personal inner reservoir of stillness on a regular basis, it accumulates. It’s like a bank account of energy which you can dip into, and ignite, when you need it most.
If employees were a little happier, less stressed and more valued at work, chances are their well-being and productivity might improve. Think of it as a simple equation. Neuroscience continues to reveal that managing stress and triggering the Relaxation Response influences stress hormones in our body in a positive way. It’s time to retrain the brain to respond better to stress, and to start thinking differently about our working experience as vocation.
The Bliss Crisis & Renewal
“Our real job is to be the people we are capable of being. Often people think, ‘I have to get a job,’ as though it’s something outside yourself. A real career when it’s seen as a calling, is something that emerges organically from who you are. A career is not separate from who you are, a career is an extension of who you are.”
~Marianne Williamson, Spiritual Teacher and Author
The idea of blissful vocation has devolved, and we have grown to deem such thoughts of joyful work as an idealistic dream and the stuff of fairy tales. How can one find happiness in a job or career where the bottom-line trumps the quest for meaningful work, wisdom, wonder and well-being?
There is a Bliss Crisis at work. The bottom-line is king and success is currently determined by who has more expensive toys and who can make and sell them faster than anyone else.
We are collectively suffering a bliss crisis at work on the most fundamental level, research suggests as much:
- 86% of workers plan to find new jobs in 2013 (Inc.com,2013)
- Just 47% of workers are satisfied with their jobs (Conference Board, 2012)
- In a positive mode, your brain is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. (Shawn Achor, Good Think Inc.)
The time for a new APR has arrived. I propose a new metric informed by the human condition. The attention, performance and resilience of our talent is far more important than just the financial rate of return. And that APR needs to be fueled by the exaltation of a human, joyful and dignified experience at work.
By default, a new governing APR would have less to do with money, than with a workforce that has a high level of well-being. And here’s a good argument for that: According the 2012 Pricewaterhouse Global CEO survey, the creativity and innovation orchestrated by talent are the most significant competitive drivers for profit, so surely the well-being of talent and in fact how they manage their attention, productivity and resilience must be of quantum concern.
Furthermore, regardless of ones job and whether it brings one joy, staying present and in good spirits at “work” influences ones happiness in every moment. And that’s certainly an argument for the bottom-line. According to Delivering Happiness at Work, the new workplace consultancy from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, “happy employees are committed, drive sales and are about 43% more productive.”
But cultivating a blissful state where employees can tap the wisdom and wonder of their inner Veritas or truth has been trumped. The high demands of an uncertain workplace, the success mentality defined by the almighty dollar and a fiercely competitive environment have combined to create a workplace culture that cares less about the well-being of talent, and more about the bottom-line.
The Cultural Evolution of the Workplace
Research shows that meaningful work can no longer take a backseat to the almighty dollar if companies want to secure and retain top skilled talent.
In The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work, Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile cites research that found that employees who have satisfying inner work lives – perform better, are more engaged and creative.
If employees were a little happier, less stressed and more valued at work, chances are their well-being and productivity might improve. Think of it as a simple equation. Neuroscience shows us that the brain responds well to positive emotions. A happy brain works more effectively, is more focused, engaged, innovative, and creative. A happy brain improves cognition and increases productivity (A. J. Oswald, E. Proto, and D. Sgori, 2009)
When the Veritas Principle is Embraced
“We gain our freedom when we attain our truest nature.” Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote that well over a hundred years ago, and it is no less relevant today.
Influenced beginning at birth, our ancestry, life experiences, parents, relationships, education, personal obstacles whether emotional, physical, mental or spiritual, personal triumphs or ah-ha moments - all form who we are. Fundamentally, these experiences inform our journey as we discover our career or vocation. Threaded within that tapestry of existence, are golden threads of knowledge and wisdom that we acquire along the way. Woven into those golden threads are gems of pure personal creativity, wisdom and ritual.
Gems born of intuition, well-being, a calm inner stillness, meditation, exercise, work-life fit, mental clarity etc. It’s about cultivating that special “something” that differentiates each one of us, from everyone else. There’s an authentic potential that is the crucial instrument needed to help one rise above the rest in a competitive marketplace in which big business is rapidly growing to value creativity and innovation above everything else.
The New Integrated World of Work, Stress and Bliss
Doing business in a 24/7 uncertain world, and all the bells and whistles of exponentially expanding technology, makes it difficult to tap our potential or “truest nature” at work when there is so much stress and noise. Uncertainty throws everyone. It’s easier to go with the status quo, than be the person who thinks out of the box.
Our charge is to better understand the new world of work, manage workplace and chronic stress with more consciousness, and finally do the work needed to reveal more meaning and purpose in our jobs. Ultimately, by cultivating resilience, we can trigger our own unique restorative skills, manage work stress, spark the creative impulse and consciously evolve in the workplace – engaging in meaningful vocation. That means that well-being, wisdom and wonder might just inch their way into a more influential place in business.
I’ll be writing more about the components of The Veritas Principle and how we can cultivate resilience while tapping our truest nature in vocation. I’m happy to hear your thoughts on the Work, Stress Bliss Manifesto. We’re on the precipice of change in the new world of work and I for one am thrilled to be witness to the journey of this evolution toward valuing human capital in the workplace and in the bottom-line.
Please join me in the conversation on Twitter @JudyMartin8.