Being raised in the corporate community, it was ingrained in me that the job came first from the word GO. Starting my formal career as an associate at a large public accounting firm in the US, I was taught from the very beginning that I was to do whatever was necessary to get the job done. Whether that was working longer hours, pushing through sickness to make it into work still, or sacrificing doing what I was passionate about to bring in the bigger dollars – I was (for lack of a better word) brainwashed into a “Company > Me” mentality.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that many other contributing factors go into each job or project that comes through the door, and sometimes it takes that perseverance and time commitment to be successful in whatever we do. But it has taken me 10+ years to realize that success does not need to come at a complete sacrifice-of-self as the mentality of “Company > Me” suggests. Having now been in recovery from this mindset for six months, a few fundamental changes have contributed to my new sense of self-worth.
Working 12+ hour days is normal… NO, no, it is not.
It is easy to say that working longer hours is not as bad as it seems – especially when everyone (well, almost everyone) around you is working similarly. It took me two years into my Australian secondment when having a conversation with a friend, to realize that this is unusual.
Friend: “How was your week?”
Me: “Not bad! Pretty easy actually, I only had to work 60 hours this week.”
Friend: “You know that’s not normal, right?”
Me: “…” (looks dumbfounded)
It never really occurred to me that this was not a normal response. I was always surrounded by people who had similar schedules and seemed as busy and unavailable as I was, so this seemed like the norm. I had not realized that most of my friends were my work colleagues under the same unrealistic expectations. As an entrepreneur, there will be days that require more time and attention than others – this is realistic. What is not realistic is to expect those long days to be repetitive and continuous. Similar to an athlete, our minds and bodies need recovery time to rejuvenate and come back ready to perform again at our highest potential.
The Harvard Business Review highlighted vital areas that are improved through shortened hours in “The Case for the 6-Hour Workday,” including higher productivity and better outcomes, more motivated and less-stressed employees, and improved employee acquisition rates retention. So what you are telling me is that shortened, more reasonable hours allowing for more work-life balance (yes, that illustrious angel) produces happier employees and more profitable business? It seems like a no-brainer, right?!
It is okay to work while you are sick / on holiday. Um, hello? It is called “leave” for a reason.
Let me start by saying that it is okay to take time off that you have earned or need. Let me say that again for the people in the back; it is okay to take time off. Often, the higher we move in our jobs and the more responsibilities we take on – the more guilt we feel for utilizing our accrued time. This guilt often comes in two waves – first, when deciding to take time off and second, when disconnecting while being away.
Growing up in the US (both literally and professionally), it was customary to take time off in a day or two increments. Any more and the guilt would rise as we were falsely led to believe that we were needed at all times. Do not get me wrong here, it is great to feel needed, but the truth is that the job will go on without us – whether that is for a day or two or more. Other times, there is the epitome fear of the over-achiever, FOMO (fear of missing out). We worry that by taking a few days off, we will not demonstrate our true potential or dedication to our jobs. The reality of it is that there will always be another opportunity, another project to come along. This is something that I have learned a lot about during my time in Australia. After leaving the US, I was paid out almost eight weeks of accrued time off, the time I never took for myself – time I had earned. Upon arriving in Australia, it was eye-opening to learn the norm is for people to take time off in weeks or months. Those that did not utilize all of their allotted time (four weeks – time to catch up America!) were usually saving it for a more extended trip, generally in 2- or 3-month increments. Imagine what experiences I could have had with the eight weeks I was paid out. Needless to say, my earned time is better utilized nowadays.
But then, when we do take the time, we quite often finding ourselves working or checking in to work while being away. Ask yourself, how many times have you sent or received the “I’m home, sick but will be online periodically” email? Somehow, it has been drilled into our mindset – especially when it comes to our professional careers – that it is not okay to be sick. As if it is in our control to decide when we will or will not feel well. Or what about checking a few emails or “just going to take this one call” while being on holiday? The disconnect from work can be healing in many ways – from allowing our bodies and minds the necessary time to rejuvenate to providing a fresh start for weeks ahead upon our return.
This is something we feel strongly about at High Rock. We encourage our people to take the time they need when they are unwell. When this becomes ingrained in the company’s culture, it is very easy to see the team step up for their colleagues in times of need because that is what was (or will be) done for them. Even more than that, we believe that a wholly disconnected holiday or vacation has more benefits to the employee and the company – even in the short term. From a reinvigorated excitement about returning to work or being less distracted about the outside world’s what-ifs, companies have seen increases in productivity and happiness in those that disconnect. So, we incentivize it. At High Rock, we offer a holiday bonus where we will reimburse a portion of your trip if you can demonstrate that you have genuinely disconnected (yes, that means no emails, phone calls, messaging – all of it).
You might not like it, but it benefits the Company. Well, why can it not help us both?
I could not even begin to count the number of times I have worked on obnoxious clients because the fee was good for the company’s bottom line. Or the industries I was strongly encouraged into because no one else wanted to run them. It is not all bad here. There are benefits to taking on challenging clients or new industries – expansion of knowledge, experience in a new area, learning what you do or do not like, finding out what you are or are not willing to tolerate. Well, that’s all fine and dandy if (similar to the long hours) it is not ongoing.
Digging into some light neurochemistry and throwing it back to a little 2001 nostalgia, I like to revert to the infamous Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) quote from Legally Blonde:
“Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands; they just don’t.”
What would otherwise be a silly movie quote actually has some science behind it and refers to creating the “happiness hormone.” Once your heart starts to pump, you get a rush of feel-good chemicals that kicks in to produce endorphins. Endorphins help develop feelings of general well-being or a sense of euphoria. So, what does this mean from a business standpoint? At High Rock, we have a strong belief in supporting our people to follow their passion(s) based on the foundation that when we, as humans, are doing something that we enjoy – we not only produce endorphins but also produce better results. It then becomes a continuous revolution:
Win-win am I right?!
While I am in recovery from this “Company > Me” perspective, there are still many adjustments to be made. For those that are like me (shout out to all my over-achieving Type-A perfectionists), it is a continuous battle to talk ourselves out of working the ridiculous hours to follow our passions, take the time we need, and create our success. So, what is the first step in creating this new “People before Profits” mindset? It is precisely that, putting our people first.