Saturday, May 23, 2009

When Work Isn't Working

I was on the phone yesterday to CEO-friend of mine. It was lovely to speak to him, as ever, but he's not happy man. Not at work anyway.

Like a lot of CEOs, he's just not enjoying the job. He struggles to believe that his organisation is making a difference and he despairs at the mountain of crap he has to deal with every time he goes to work.

He contrast this life with his earlier one with a much smaller organisation. This felt far more `real' and he felt that, however difficult things got, he was making a tangible difference, not, as he put it, `wasting his time' in his current role.

We discussed the nature of senior jobs. Are they all a bit like this? Low on satisfaction, high on hassle. With an accompanying sense that only a small droplet of social good emerges from the oil-refinery of inputs and outputs over which one presides as a CEO.

Obviously not all the top jobs are bad. There is fun to be had. I, for one, am in a more fortunate situation than my friend. But he has a point. We talked a bit about money.

What you get above 45k is, he says is commensurate with the level of stress you have to ensure. The top salaries are essentially buying not only your skills but also your ability to absorb negativity and, perhaps most crucially, your consent to set aside your own fulfilment through meaningful work in exchange for a good standard of living.

Again, this reflects, I think, only some jobs - but more than perhaps we'd all be comfortable admitting. At times (normally during long meetings), I too feel I am divorcing myself from what I used to actually enjoy in order to earn more than I once did.

Where does this leave us? My friend is seriously considering his options. He yearns for a more meaningful if less well paid existence. Something brand new is on his mind.

For me, I am staying where I am, for now. My situation is cushioned by an amazing senior team and board. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. But, in the middle distance, I envisage change, if only to restore that vital connection between myself and the direct delivery of benefit.

1 comment:

Mark Griffiths 'ideally speaking...' said...

Craig, for your friend's malaise, I recommend Alain De Botton's recent 'The Pleasures And Sorrows Of Work'. At a certain age (40-ish), it's important to make a compact with yourself about the rest of your working life - as you're only at half time. And it's important to come out fighting in the second half.