The Smoke and Mirrors of Positivity

rejection-620x412We live in a world awash with the need to be positive and the need to play nicely with one another. Organisations, institutions & positivity guru’s have, according to Barbara Ehrenreich, hijacked positive psychology to espouse the virtues of “if you have nothing positive to say – don’t say anything at all“. Ehrenreich’s book “Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World” makes a compelling argument to suggest that positive thinking resulted in the misguided invasion of Iraq, global financial crash, the collapse of Lehman Bank and the sub prime mortgage scandal. Anyone brave enough to counter the positive delusions or the belief in the mandatory positivity, optimism and cheerfulness were told to shut up, sidelined or fired. The proposed collective wilful ignorance highlights that if the negatives were ignored then all would be fine. Clearly they were not fine.

The film “Up in the Air” (2009) George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham showcases the art of spinning a positive scenario for people facing redundancy. The workforce will still feel the pain, rejection and abandonment but the business has been conducted positively for the company making the workers redundant.

Smoke & Mirrors

However, the illusion of positivity creates a sense of control upon us, that ensures that we inculcate all involved into the belief it will all be OK if we believe in positive thinking. Indeed there is a sense that we can change our world by just thinking positively – almost as if we have a positivity magnet that will attract whatever our hearts desire.

Positive thinking suggests a better life will suddenly appear when the latest positivity guru pop’s up with the next vacuous clichéd pseudo-inspirational quote to help us feel great.  By simply adjusting our attitude. Needless to say, it won’t happen. We may feel great for a little while but the guru has no more investment in you other than getting you to buy their next book, or attend the next nauseating “Billy Graham-esque” evangelical positivity conference. Indeed this perspective is akin to the Pollyanna Syndrome (or positivity-bias), defined as being when someone who is blindly or foolishly optimistic, almost delusional.

Its Never as Simple as Negative and Positive

Clearly, not everyone will agree with Barbara Ehrenreich’s world view. However, we arrive at a point that rational realism and an emotional agility is missing from or organisations and within our daily lives. There are countless common sense ideas on how to become positive and happier; be kind, count your blessings,work less, spend more time with friends and family & everything in moderation. Of course there is every reason to believe that this is not a panacea to becoming happier. According to positive psychologists Dr Todd Kashdan & Dr Robert Biswas-Diener (2015) we have gone about promoting happiness and positivity in all the wrong ways. We are encouraged to ignore negativity and focus upon the positives. Indeed we don’t actually need to choose between a negative or positive but move toward a more emotionally agile to match our emotions to the situation.

Clearly being happy & positive is a good thing and beneficial to us all in our lives. However, “in a world where rejection, failure, self doubt, hypocrisy, loss, boredom, annoying and objectionable people are inevitable (the authors) reject that the notion of positivity is the only place to look for answers” (Kashdan & Biswas-Diener 2015).  So what is the answer to gain an emotionally agile life, to be in a better position to embrace both positive and negative emotions to promote “wholeness”  (Kashdan et al 2015). Indeed the authors go on to cite a number of evidenced based studies that extol the virtues and how the affects of negative emotions are in fact more beneficial and life affirming than positive in some instances. Moreover a  great deal of memories and learning experiences develop when we are experiencing negativity or dis-comfort in one shape or form. Learning to live with negative emotions and giving them space to help us see that boredom is the affect of not enough stimulus (but can stimulate creativity), or feeling guilt because we have crossed a moral line somewhere. This information is telling us we just need to adjust something in our lives and, more to the point, we can tolerate these emotions and the discomfort they sometimes bring.

The belief we need to control our perceived negative emotions may be wrong, and that the cult of the positive is stifling emotional growth. Without promoting the emotional intelligence necessary to be able to feel guilt, shame, disgust or fear etc, and how to use the action tendencies or feedback being given we will just have an indeterminate “bad” feeling. As a result want to move away from the pain and discomfort that may just help us become balanced and emotionally happy.

More often than not we can’t actually categorise human emotion we feel so cannot use the information provided by them as we do not have a construct for them. Just end up with a bad feeling or just don’t have the words to describe how we feel.  So although at times we may have a preponderance of negative emotions in our lives, the key is the become more aware and to clarify them. As a result these emotions no-longer have the toxicity that we associate with them.

And Finally………………..

I appreciate that if you got this far with this post you have gone way beyond the call of duty. However, the positivity illusions lead us to suppress those range of negative emotions that will help us grow and hopefully listen to a fear or anxiety that things may going wrong around us. How many times have we been to an interview and felt the disappointment of not doing very well or the entrepreneur who is narcissistic or the arrogant belief that their business will succeed.

Optimism & positivity serves a purpose and will help the job seeker and the entrepreneur however, without these repackaging so-called negative emotions the entrepreneur is unlikely to make the business work or the next interview will go better as we need these motivations. Negative emotions do not need to be enacted upon so acknowledging this is what anger feels like for example is enough, or maybe we need to use the triggers of the feeling to understand how we have arrived at the point of anger and frustration. Therefore having a choice to take time out to recognise things aren’t great currently and not being bamboozled by those espousing positivity, will give us all the space to know we will be just fine and we will survive these feelings.  Indeed our emotions act as a metaphysical thumbs up or thumbs down, letting us know how we are doing and what to pay attention to.  Recognising these negative emptions will help us to become healthier and more emotionally agile to manage situations and have the tools to springboard us to happier positive life.

 

References 

Ehrenreich, B. (2010) “Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World” Granta, London

Kashdan, T. B & Biswas-Diener, R. (2015)  “The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self” Plume Books, New York

I can’t get no…………Job Satisfaction.

images (31)On a recent trip to my local discount supermarket, my attention was drawn to members of the staff team looking, well, thoroughly miserable and bored with being at work. They seemed to be just going through the motions, no eye contact with customers or co-workers, no smiles or any joy in being there. Now I do appreciate it is a supermarket and it may not be the type of job that makes you bound out of bed singing hallelujah and praise be to be going to work. However, it seems to be a common theme that runs through all members of this staff team. Its almost as though the business is made more difficult by having customers in the store rather than an opportunity to engage with your customers & co-workers and enjoy yourself more. For my sins, I have visited supermarkets in many different countries, and enjoy a rummage around the shelves, as seems to help me to get into the culture of the place and understand the people a little better. My local discount supermarket seems to stand head an shoulders above all others as being a miserable and unsatisfying place to work. The impression then is one of no fun, targets to meet, productivity to maintain and encouraged not to bother customers with any contact what so ever.  For risk of not loading the shelves or getting customers through the checkout in record time.

So that got my juices flowing in what constitutes job satisfaction, do we all have it, or have a right to be satisfied in what we do. Is it the case we have some jobs just for the money – so head down and just get the shift done, smile and take the money. Or is there more to life at work that we should be looking for and ensuring is in place to help us make the most of what we do, more to the point why we do what we do.

Job satisfaction is important not just because it boosts enjoyment, happiness and work performance but it also increases our quality of life at work and home. Many people spend so much time at work that when it becomes highly dissatisfying, the rest of their life soon follows suit. Studies from psychology suggest that the top satisfiers are:-

  1. Fair Pay – Whatever job you do, for you to be satisfied the pay should be fair. The bigger the perceived difference between what you think you should earn and what you do earn the less satisfied you’ll be.
  2. Sense of achievement – we feel more satisfied with our jobs when we have achieved something. As smaller cogs in larger machines it may be difficult to tell what we’re contributing.
  3. Positive feedback – Getting negative feedback can be very painful but at least it tells you where you can improve. On the other hand positive feedback can make all the difference to how satisfied people feel in their jobs.
  4. Variety – To be satisfied people need to be challenged a little and they need some variety in the tasks they carry out. It sounds easy when put like that but many jobs offer neither complexity nor variety such as our discount supermarket.
  5. Control – If people aren’t given any control, they may well attempt to retake it by finding other ways to undermine the system. Psychologists suggest that people who work in jobs where they have little latitude find their work very stressful and consequently unsatisfying.
  6. Support from the organisation – Workers want to know their organisation cares about them, that they are getting something back for what they put in. This is primarily communicated through how the managers treat us etc. Generally if people perceive more organisational support, they experience higher job satisfaction.

When you look at this list of what makes for a satisfying jobs, it makes you wonder why everyone can’t have one. With a little thought and motivation by HR & management, most of the predictors of job satisfaction can easily be provided. However, the answer is as you can probably appreciate not quite that simple.

Organisations tend pay lip-service to keeping their employees satisfied, but many don’t really believe or have objective measures to know it makes a difference. What research shows us is that it can make a huge difference. If you’re a business is looking to improve job satisfaction in a workplace then start with the list noted above and work through them to reflect upon where you and the workforce are with workers job satisfaction. It may not appear to be much but it will make a huge difference to people on the shop floor and hopefully my local discount supermarket with be a nicer place for me and the workforce to be.

 

Image http://www.seven-health.com/

The Home Workers Strategy (whilst still having a life)

A messy desk at homeA lot of people tell me that moving toward home working is easy, just decide one day that its going to happen and there you go…………..right? Without a plan and thinking thoroughly about your run and jump into home working you might want to think again. Interested well read on.

Many organisations for lots of different reasons close offices and decide that the workforce can work from a home base. Generally there is a shrug of the collective shoulders, you pick up your laptop, a phone and off you go. No planning, no discussions at home of what it may mean to the family or how you will manage the available space.

Mum’s and Dad’s going back to work after a baby might not want to be away from their precious one, so this options will help them get back to the work they love. Again jumping in with both feet might work but when you plan the home working thing with work and family in mind its potentially a win win situation.

Here is a quick check list of things I use to help business and individuals move positively toward home working bliss.

  • Get the right technology and support for technology sorted out quickly. Being on your own to sort out broken computers, sufficient broadband, mobile phone signal etc can be challenging. Make sure you have a back up system for both files and hardware , so the stress of things going pop is reduced.
  • Talk to the family. Ensure that families and especially children understand what is happening. Let them have their input into the transitional process.
  • Decide on where you will situate your office space. This goes back to families once more, as excess clutter and paper work can cause quite a lot of stress and conflict. A corner of a living room is fine but what disturbance will you get and what hours will you be able to work most productively without being bothered?
  • If you are lucky you can convert a bedroom or garage. Again spend time planning and setting this out so you feel you are at work and away from home.
  • Commute to work. Yes I know you are working at home but a trip to the newsagents or bakers in the morning helps you get your head in the right space for work.
  • Decide upon how to maintain your social connections. Meet colleagues at the many hotels with lobbies that have coffee shops and catch up with friends when you can.
  • Do not get dragged into working too long – presenteeism is a serious problem for home based working.
  • Keep technology away from the bedroom and yes I mean phones, TV’s and computers. You need your sleep to be effective at work and yes that means home based workers too.
  • Start a homeworkers coffee morning or lunch club. Great for small business owners to mix, get ideas & network.
  • Most of all enjoy the home working experience. Enjoy the flexibility and the chance for a better lifestyle for you and your family. Plus with planning get a great deal of work done whilst sitting at home.

So all is not lost for home based working just needs a bit of careful planning and bit of negotiation and most of all commitment to make it work. Good luck and most of all have fun with the change to more flexible working.

Call or email me for details of my strategies for successful home working and my upcoming book “How to Work at Home & Stay Sane”

Stick or Twist Careers – Finding Meaning at Work

images (40)Did you know in the pre-industrialised world there were around 30 different jobs to do. You might well have made things such as barrels, worked leather, a potter or looked after horses – you get the picture. Pretty straightforward jobs to earn a living.

However at the last count today there are approximately 12,000 different jobs and occupations (Krznaric 2012). So its no wonder people are confused about how to find a job or career that is fulfilling that will match our values, talents, identity and passions. Our working life and career paths have taken on greater meaning to us all. Maybe wrapped up in status anxiety and the power we feel is necessary for us in certain roles and life stage. Perhaps all this business of careers is just a modernmiddle class conceit; as when the bills and a mortgage needs to be paid any job will do right? Tricky sociological & philosophical questions to answer and certainly one I am not willing to explore here.

Clearly we have more and more choice in our careers and working lives today. Though the paradox of more choice is that we tend to become more risk averse and paralysed about making the wrong choice. Just choosing biscuits for me is the ultimate paralysis though analysis recently. Is it price, chocolate content, brand, dunkability and so on and so on!

Statistics show 2-4 years is about the time we spend in one job before moving on, thus putting us in a perpetual career/work transition phase and having to re-invest ourselves time after time.

So how do you find a job or career choice that has a good match for where you are in your life? Perhaps you are starting out and just wanting to get onto the career ladder or at a stage where you are looking for something more meaningful to do with your time. Do you specialise or spread you net over a range of roles called a wide achiever? In the meantime here are a few things to think about that may help the focus on finding a job with meaning that will fulfil and sustain you – and I will leave you to decide upon what constitutes meaning, fulfilment and what will sustain you in your work.

  1. If you just need a job plan then implement. Apply your skills, abilities, knowledge & experience etc to fitting an industry, trade or career path and get things moving quickly. Get the CV out there, network and find the people who can connect you to those business looking for new recruits. This method may not help you find the “special” role but it will help you move forward.
  2. Getting into a job will help you know what you like and not like in a job or career. You may find that things don’t necessarily match your identity, beliefs, values and passions but you are getting experimenting with work. Trying different jobs and career paths will help build up your experiential learning about the workplace and where you see your future.
  3. Start some voluntary work (if you can) that fits with where your passion lay, if not being satisfied in your current job or career. It may lead on to different opportunities and help you know if your passions are a lovely fantasy or a reality. If the thought of changing career is scary try this model to start the process of change and becoming less risk averse.
  4. Spend time in a career or job that you had never previously thought of. As suggested my Roman Krznaric in his 2012 book How to Find Fulfilling Work a “radical sabbatical”
  5. Lastly, and not for the feint hearted – act first and reflect later (Krznaric, 2012). This may be for the more confident amongst us as going with a career or job that isn’t necessarily planned and thus implemented upon as mentioned before may be a step too far. Though if there is an opportunity to just “feel the fear and do it anyway” you may find that this will open your working world view to career experiments that you had not thought of in your planning phase of career management.

So there we are that’s enough careers and work navel gazing for the time being. Though these big questions are being asked by people, employees and progressive organisations in recent years. Progressive organisations are helping employees become more meaning focussed by allowing them to engage in more diverse projects and outward facing working.

So as Chris Baldry et al in The Meaning of Work in the New Economy, suggest “Nobody wants their job to have no meaning, even if the primary or indeed onlymeaning is its economic support for home and family.’ It may be time to allow yourself some navel gazing toward a more progressive approach to you career and perhaps trying a few interesting working experiments to see where your passions lay?

Bibliography & References

Botton, A. (2009) “The Pleasures & Sorrows of Work” Penguin Books, London

Krznaric, R. (2012) “How to Find Fulfilling Work” Macmillan

Baldry, C. et al (2007) “The Meaning of Work in the New Economy” Palgrave Macmillan