Becoming Too Comfortable in the Workplace
By Mary Jacoby Hastings
When one evaluates the innumerable interpretations of the phrase “work-life balance,” it is curious how the concept is perceived at different career levels. Take for instance the juxtaposition of the words themselves. Is work something we balance against personal life necessities and what makes us happy outside the office? This interpretation makes a marked distinction between the two.
Perhaps the phrase refers to balancing the work-life itself not taking into account our lives away from work? Arguably, work is a part of life; therefore the two cannot be separated, or can they?
Let’s take the case of Marlene who found herself the sole survivor in her department after cutbacks by a Denver-based firm. In her case, what had always been a two-person job landed squarely on Marlene alone to shoulder all of the responsibilities once shared. Fortunately Marlene’s years of experience and innate talents in the industry helped her prevail, though circumstances were less than ideal.
Marlene faced two big choices. The first choice was whether or not to become a victim and make it clear to management this job required the efforts of more than one person in the hopes her superiors would “see the light” and she would get help.
The second choice was to find ways to function as a one-person operation by streamlining all processes and activities proving to management that she was capable of handling the responsibilities entrusted to her.
Marlene found that the obvious answer was choice number two and proceeded to find efficient ways of doing things while making those changes invisible to an outsider. She never missed a beat by meeting deadlines and continuing to produce a quality product. It was never apparent there had been any staff changes because Marlene was able to keep up appearances allowing her company to remain in a favorable light to outsiders.
Unfortunately, like all similar situations, this did not come to a fairy tale ending. Instead of recognizing Marlene’s clever accomplishment, management determined everything was running so smoothly with one person at the helm, this no longer needed to be a full time position and cut Marlene’s hours, resulting in the loss of her healthcare benefits. While members of management were patting themselves on the back for finding ways to positively affect the bottom line, Marlene was panicking.
Marlene’s husband was unemployed and she had a daughter in college. How would they make it on a part time income and no health insurance? She began to question whether choice number two had been the wiser of the options from which she chose. In essence, her efficiency proved to be her demise by blind management.
No longer was Marlene showing up at work feeling a sense of accomplishment and starting each workday with a new sense of purpose. No longer did she see management as looking out for her best interests. No longer did she feel any loyalty to her firm. Now she went to work because she had no other choice. Part time or full time, Marlene was the bread-winner at home now and had to go to work each day covering her resentment with a smile and a forced “can do” attitude.
In the end, management had shot themselves in the “proverbial” foot by squelching the enthusiasm of a once highly dedicated employee who performed flawlessly during her nearly 15 years with the firm. Now the management team was at risk of losing a valued resource to another organization, but they could not see it nor did they seem to care.
This story is not over, but it is headed for a happier ending. Marlene realized this was the push she needed to make a change and do more with her life. Her job had become almost monotonous with its daily routines, but overall her circumstances were pretty darn good compared to many others in the workplace. She had, in essence, become too comfortable to gather the energy to look at other opportunities. After all, her company provided coffee, tea, hot chocolate and eating utensils she didn’t have to bring in every day. There were the perks of having the firm’s recreational amenities at her disposal and she was well-established with clientele.
Her newly found discomfort forced Marlene to open her eyes and start looking at endeavors where her many talents would once again bring her personal satisfaction. With her resume in vast circulation, the offers for interviews began to flow in to the point of overwhelming Marlene. She realized that for the first time in a very long time, she was now in the driver’s seat and didn’t have to rush into anything by jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.
Today, Marlene works several part time and freelance jobs doing what she had always wanted to do and finding renewed satisfaction. She traversed from balancing her “worklife” to harmoniously balancing her “work” and “life” to meet her personal needs. She no longer “has to” go to work; she now “wants to” go to work because she put herself in the driver’s seat. What once seemed like the end of the world had blossomed into a new world of opportunity.