Work satisfaction is pretty damn important. In fact, it’s really a matter of life and death. According to the health experts at the Cooper Clinic more than half of corporate managers will die from heart disease caused by work stress. And work stress is not caused because business is competitive. Rather, study after study confirms that work stress is caused because leaders are incompetent.
I see the results of this all the time.
I worked with several different companies this past month and it gave me a vivid experience of how some organizations are nothing but stress factories, and others are deeply satisfying places to work to work.
For instance, I have recently been delivering my Women Effect training in several prominent technology companies. (I also conduct these as public workshops open to all women. The next one is February 28th in La Jolla.) The impact and appreciation for the training is very fulfilling for me, but nearly all women ask:
“Instead of training us on how to be effective in a bad culture why can’t you train the male leaders to shift the culture so we can do our best work?”
The unfortunate answer is that most male technology leaders I met with think it’s a “woman” problem not a leadership problem.
Surveys show that women in technology and are less satisfied and more overstressed than any other industry sector. (Finance is a strong second as a bad place for women to work.) Women engineers last about 5 years before they start planning their exit. By year seven, experienced female engineers are leaving their companies in a torrent. This has been going on for over 25 years and virtually no major technology company has done anything effective to stop it.
The reasons for such female unhappiness are easy to identify. Gallup research reveals that:
- most women feel unheard and undervalued
- Yet, they are expected to be connected to their work 24/7
- If women have competing obligations either to their children or aging parents, it is viewed as a career liability
- Women are routinely given uninteresting work that they have mastered long ago. It is quite common for women in these organizations to see males who were hired at the same time, with the same skills, receive two promotions before they get one.
My question is not why capable women leave technology companies. My question is why they stay at all.
Fortunately I just had a contrasting experience with a company whose workforce is over 80% female. The JL Buchanan Company is a retail-consulting firm focused primarily on helping those who are suppliers to Target Stores merchandise their products to engage shoppers. I know, it’s no wonder they have so many female employees. The company has been successful for over 30 years because it has mastered the art of strategic empathy. They know what Target customers want and need, and work with suppliers to provide those products in an attractive way at an attractive price.
Jeff Buchanan, who is the retiring CEO, long ago decided to create a company in which it was easy for creative people to succeed. He was an early adopter of the flexible workplace and instituted the Results Only Work Environment, known as ROWE. This creates a meritocracy that only rewards results. Where and when you work doesn’t matter. You’re treated like an adult. You manage yourself and your relationships with your teammates from wherever you are, whenever it’s necessary. If you can do your work for the next month from Hawaii you don’t need permission. (That’s a big perk since the company is located in Minneapolis!) All employees are challenged to improve themselves, to become more capable, innovate new ways of working, and invent new strategies to grow. Work is both fun and meaningful because relationships are extraordinarily strong. Speaking to their entire workforce was like breathing pure oxygen. It is so refreshing to find a pearl in the slimy gunk of most working cultures that I encounter.
Next, I interviewed four young women who have been extraordinarily successful in the insurance business. That’s not normal. In a recent PwC survey, millennial age women rated Financial Services and specifically Insurance as their least attractive career option. Working at the DMV was rated more highly! But you’d never know it from the women I talked to.
It is true that the insurance industry is dominated by white-haired, male baby-boomers that are not oriented toward recruiting or managing young millennial women. This is a big worry for industry. But as it turns out, it doesn’t have to be.
What these women told me is that what attracted them was that selling insurance products really tapped their empathy skills in a purposeful way. They saw themselves as helping clients achieve financial security, with all the accompanying practical and psychological benefits that type of security brings to their customers. They also saw insurance as a perfectly designed career for women who wanted to have families because it allowed them work schedule flexibility without creating negative judgments from their colleagues. Finally, each of them was experiencing the benefits from having a flow of recurring revenue from their insurance renewals. They literally felt like they were building their own business rather than having a static job.
What set these women in insurance apart in terms of their success path is that each of them were initially assigned a seasoned successful male career partner when they entered the industry. These mentors encouraged them when success was difficult and transferred skills and knowledge that it took years to obtain. These women also have supportive bosses who clearly acknowledged the competing commitments these young women experience. Weekly meetings and travel demands are scheduled to avoid conflicts that cause unnecessary stress.
The Bottom Line.
Don’t work for a crappy employer.
There is clear research that identifies four things that satisfy most women in the workplace. Good companies provide these things–bad companies do not–it’s that simple.
- Meaningful work. (This is the number one satisfier sought by women who join technology companies and the number one reason for cynicism three years later when they just feel like a human piece of code.) Because female brains have more neurological activity in brain centers that makes you attentive to the needs of others and how you can provide help, women thrive when their daily work is focused on solving problems and creating solutions that genuinely create value for others. This doesn’t mean that you have to be working on the cure for cancer. Helping merchandise valuable products at Target stores can be meaningful work. Work is also meaningful when a company values healthy and respectful working relationships, and the individual growth of their employees. Being a part of a pro-growth culture is intrinsically meaningful.
- Work flexibility. Women have conflicting commitments that most men do not feel. Male brains tend to be more “compartmentalized.” Males also tend to self-justify the unintended effects of their priorities. Women are far more self-critical, which creates continuous stress in work environments that demand 24/7 availability.
- Financial fairness and equality of opportunity. Few organizations are real meritocracies. Male behaviors such as assertive confidence and competitiveness tend to get rewarded independent from performance. Not surprisingly, this both infuriates and discourages women. If your company does not promote women at the same rate as men I encourage you to job hop every 2 to 3 years as this is a much quicker way to more better paying opportunities.
- A pro-growth culture. While men tend to be more interested in increasing the status, power and money that a job provides, women tend to be more interested in increasing their capabilities and positive impact. I frequently find that men look at leadership and skill training as a bother while women embrace it as an opportunity. Few organizations are truly pro-growth in spite of the fact that there is overwhelming evidence that if you directly invest in the growth of your employees your company will grow faster.
My advice: You spend too much time at work not to work in a place that offers these four things. It’s a new year. Make it a goal to either change your workplace or find a workplace that has already embraced these values.
Women – Change your life in a day you will never forget. Join us for the WOMEN EFFECT. Intelligence – Innovation – Impact. February 28, 2017, La Jolla, California. Register Here.