A few weeks ago I was discussing ideal work environments with a client. This wasn’t a unique client discussion. Environment plays such a large part in finding the right career that many of my clients engage in meaningful sessions focused on this issue. James Allen, 1940’s pioneer of the Self-help Movement sees the alignment of self with environment as the core of being happy, health and prosperous. “A man is not rightly conditioned until he is a happy, healthy, and prosperous being; and happiness, health, and prosperity are the result of a harmonious adjustment of the inner with the outer of the man with his surroundings.”
During this one particular session, my client’s ideal work environment list came out looking like this:
In my ideal work environment I am:
- Working in my strengths
- Not worried about what others think
- The door is open for creativity
- The environment is inspirational
- I am wanted for who I am, NOT for what I can be shaped to be.
What struck me was that although the ideal work environment list is very differently for each person I work with; this seemed to be a list worth hanging on everyone’s wall. It felt sort of like a checklist for self-actualization. Or was it just so parallel with my own list, and the desires I have for all my clients that I embraced it fully.
I have to confess; I’ve never written my own ideal work environment list because for much of my working life I’ve been working for me. Yet the impact of having the list – a list that spoke to my needs – was just as powerful for me as it was for my client. The last line of this list, “I am wanted for who I am, NOT for what I can be shaped to be,” was in fact a large part of the catalyst for me to start working in career development.
As a performance improvement consultant that worked with everything from fortune 500 companies to mom and pop businesses, I found myself frequently observing training sessions and being drawn to the outliers. You know them. The people who are either existing in the Peter Principle by rising above their abilities, those who are burnt out and have no desire to learn more, or those who just want a paycheck and don’t care about performance improvement. These are the generally uninspired and under-motivated workers. They are certainly not working in, or being rewarded for their strengths. The outliers intrigued me. Being particularly picky about where I worked and the work I did, I had never really been an outlier or at least not for long. From my education and experience, I knew that training wasn’t the answer for these folks and I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to know what work, job or career they desired given all the options in the world. I wanted to know what inspired them and what work they loved to do whether they got paid or not. I knew the trick wasn’t to retrofit them into jobs they were not meant to be doing. So I started talking and observing and researching...
Several years later, after research, study and work with clients, I’ve found that although work tasks play a big role in job and career happiness, work environment is one of the most critical factors in creating a work-life balance. The outliers I observed, though well suited for the tasks expected of them, were ill suited for the environment in which they were asked to work. Cheryl Richardson, New York Times Best Selling Author and Certified Master Coach explains it this way, “So let’s say you realize that you are never going to be a 9a.m. to 5 p.m. person. You’re not cut out for that sort of typical work environment. The benefit might be [revealed] if you embrace that and say I need to be self-employed or I need to be doing more project-oriented work. Identify the benefits [and say] - I’d be more productive. I’d be happier. The people around me would be happier because my mood would be better. When you identify the benefits of accepting the behavior or habit, you actually give leverage to it and give yourself a better chance of sticking with it.”
Is it worth your time to think about your ideal work environment? Maybe you can answer that question by simply asking yourself if you are happy in your work, if you look forward to work each day, and if you would choose the work you are doing given all the options in the world. For me, it’s nice to have the list to remind me of all I have, for others the list might be a reminder of what’s possible in their work and lives. Consider writing your list and hanging it on the wall or using it as a checklist to help you investigate, find, create or design your life. I’d enjoy hearing about the impact it has on you.