How to Keep Employees Happy

I used to work for someone who insisted we start all projects with a vision and a high level outline to get there. He would literally insist that I don’t include or even work on any details — and casually say “You should only spend 30 minutes on this” thus giving me a deadline which made it near impossible to work in my own way to give him a valuable end result. Despite trying to explain this to him, he didn’t realize that without diving into some of the details I cannot, no matter how hard I try or practice, come up with an outline that is worthy of his time. In fact, I never write outlines. Even in grade school I recall writing my final drafts (in handwriting!) and then creating the required outline after that. I was a straight A student.

He was forcing me to work in a way that set me up for failure every single time (zero exaggeration).

What actually happened every time was that I’d work myself ragged working 18 hour days in order to attempt to get in some time to dig into the details and bubble it up to high level vision and strategy from there. I was never successful and always overwhelmed when we were working on a project together. I absolutely hated it and it ultimately drove me to leave rather than to continue to internalize the feeling of relentless failure which was so far from the truth.

I excelled at my job, got 3 unprompted raises and promoted twice but I always felt like a C student.

Here’s what happens when you force a workstyle on someone (or at least here’s what happened to me):

It was exhausting and demoralizing. On top of that, since I managed a team with a variety of work styles, I was constantly protecting and worried about the ones who didn’t think like him (also exhausting). I’d spend extra time helping those who didn’t work like him prepare. It felt like an executive must feel when preparing for a board meeting. Creativity literally dies and the outcome is work product that pleases the boss but may not be the best work.

I couldn’t be myself (i.e.: Authentic). So many people work in jobs where they cannot be themselves because they have learned that to do so risks potential rewards like promotions, pay raises and approval. Some people have learned to live with this by convincing themselves that because it’s work, who they are is irrelevant. Others fit in the middle, hating their jobs but putting up with it because they need to pay the bills (or interestingly enough, they make a lot of money so they’d be crazy to leave). People like me are blessed and cursed with not just a desire to be as close to 100% authentic as possible, but a requirement to do so — not being authentic actually impacts my emotional, mental and physical well-being to the point where I hurt in every aspect of my life. It sounds super dramatic, I know. But it’s true. So it’s very important for me to do work where I can get as close to 100% as possible.

Ultimately the unconscious refusal to allow different work styles was the biggest factor that led to me leaving. I saw no way to resolution. I left before it was too late for me.

Employees — don’t stay where your sense of self and worth will slowly erode until you no longer know where you begin and end.

Employers — don’t lose your valued employees by forcing them into a box that allows the rewards you offer to pale in comparison to the negative impact on them.

Learn to embrace and harness different workstyles. You’ll get a workforce that stays longer, has higher productivity and your employees — you know, your fellow human beings — will be happy.