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Actually, Here is the Real Reason Why You Hate Work

When I read the first paragraph of an article posted by a friend of mine on Facebook on "Why You Hate Work," I was convinced the authors had experience working in a public accounting firm:

The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

Many of those statements accurately describe my experience working as a staff accountant over ten years ago. Sadly, not much has changed. Some of my clients who work in public accounting report similar feelings and experiences.

The authors, Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, may not be CPAs but they do know a thing or two about our profession. They performed research with 150 tax accountants during a busy season to test their theories on the value of intermittent rest.

In the study, one group of accountants worked in a different way during a busy season: they worked for 90-minute uninterrupted periods, took 10-15 minute breaks in between, and took a full one-hour break in the late afternoon. Once they had completed a designated amount of work, they were allowed to leave for the day.

The results were surprising and not so surprising. They found that those who worked in the focused manner and left work earlier produced greater results; they got more done in less time. This group also said they felt less stressed out and their turnover rate was much lower. Sounds like enough data to make some changes in the firm, yet the firm didn’t make any changes. A senior leader was quoted as saying “We just don’t know any other way to measure them, except by their hours.”

Old habits die hard, I guess. I get that. But the way we are working truly is not working. The U.S. Labor Department estimates today’s workers will have 10-14 jobs by the age 38. As of January 2012, they estimated the median employee tenure was 4.65 years. How will partnership structures survive if no one wants to stay in the game long enough to buy in?

Schwartz and Porath make the case for a human-centered organization that puts its people first in practice and not just from the pulpit:

“It costs nothing, for example, to mandate that meetings run no longer than 90 minutes, or to set boundaries around when people are expected to answer email and how quickly they’re expected to respond. Other basic steps we’ve seen client companies take is to create fitness facilities and nap rooms, and to provide healthy, high-quality food free, or at subsidized prices, as many Silicon Valley companies now do.”

If you work for a firm that is not ready and willing to take change on, there are still things you can control. Take care of your four core needs identified by Schwartz and Porath:

  • Renewal: Copy the tax accountants and take breaks. Your rate of return on productivity sharply declines the more you work and the more continuously you work. If you aren’t used to breaks, schedule them in to your calendar and force yourself.
  • Value: This occurs when you feel care and trust within the organization. Find a committed listener or mentor, cultivate a relationship, and reap the rewards. Employees with support are 67% more engaged.
  • Focus: Remember how those tax accountants focused on work in 90-minute intervals? Multitasking is a great skill for a waiter but not something you want to be exercising all the time. Accounting requires critical thinking and focus.
  • Purpose: Each of us has an emotional how come that drives our actions and professional choices. This is something that is so critical and all too often missing. People don’t get out of bed each day to make the best spreadsheet. We go to work to make a difference in the world or travel across it. We want to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. When you are in the thick of hating your work, take a step back and remind yourself of emotional how come.

I know it is possible to love your job. I have loved mine, hated mine, reinvented, and then loved again. Whining is a waste of energy that can be invested more wisely. Take charge, take a break and create a thriving career that has you feeling excited at the start of each day.