May 052008

Who do you really work for?

It’s not a trick question, it’s not that I suspect you’re involved in some sort of shady commercial espionage. It’s a simple, straightforward query:

  • Do you work for your supervisor?

  • Do you work for your line manager?

  • Do you work for your HR Department?

  • Do you work for your CEO?

The answer, of course, is none of the above. When you break it down we go to work for ourselves. Whether we’re self employed, working on the shop floor, of a high-flying executive with a swanky corner office… we work to support ourselves, our families and the lifestyle we’ve chosen to live. Work is a means to an end, and while you might enjoy, or even love what you’re doing, ultimately it’s just a vehicle for your financial security, personal achievement and development, fulfilment and, ultimately, happiness.

Unfortunately we tend to forget all of that. We get caught up in the frantic hustle and bustle of working life. Long hours, stress, unrealistic expectations, unmanageable workloads and tortuous commutes conspire to erode the very things we’re working to secure.

How many of us spend less time than we’d like to with our families? How many parents with young children find themselves leaving the house before the kids wake up, working late, and not arriving home until well after the children are in bed? Even when we do spend some precious time with our loved ones, we’re often so frayed around the edges from the stress, pre-occupation and work-related worry that we’re not really paying attention.

We’re cramming more and more into our lives with multi-tasking gadgets and gizmos… and yet, for the most part, we’re getting less out.

What brought this home for me, funnily enough, was an ad on TV for one of the main mobile phone networks. They were advertising the “always connected, work on your own terms” features of their products and services, which is all very well. Images of happy families, dad’s cavorting with the kids in the back garden, twiddling the keys of their blackberry with one hand. The ad was predictable… the tag-line wasn’t. It was powerful and poignant; it said, simply: “remember who you really work for”… or something similar.

The busier we become the more we need to remind ourselves what our priorities really are. What do we want out of life, what’s important to us, what really matters… and what doesn’t? Given the choice, would you let down your boss, or let down your children? Of course it should be no contest… but even if we make the right decision, how many of us have to hesitate before answering? Work might be the place we spend most of our time… but it’s not the most important thing in our lives… not by a long shot.

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