Guest Post by Melitta Hardenberg

It’s no surprises work-life balance is the number one perk that people look for when considering their next career move. When work and life become so intertwined and increasingly busy, we no longer can separate the two. With such a focus on work-life balance, we may have taken our eyes off the right goal. Love IN work matters more than flexibility.

Marcus Buckingham recently published a new book Nine Lies about Work (my new obsession) where he explores nine tightly held beliefs about the world of work, beliefs like; where we work matters, people need feedback, we can reliably rate other people, and my favourite, work-life balance matters most. He presents a compelling case in each chapter of how the lie seems logical but how in fact the truth is far more accurate. In the case of love IN work, it could not be truer.

Doing what you love and loving what you do is the number one reason people start looking beyond what they are doing

Think of it this way, if your work was represented as a blanket with different threads representing the different work you do, and you had a red thread that represented the work that fills you, re-energises you, gives life to you. If that red thread is less than 20% of that blanket, it’s pretty likely you will be experiencing burn out, higher rates of feeling unwell and higher rates of mental health incidence. Above 20% and it’s likely there are just not enough hours in the day to do the things you’re passionate about. You might find yourself putting in discretionary effort, thinking about work on the weekends, and Monday’s suddenly become something to look forward to.

How do you find your red thread?

One of the fastest ways to find your red threads is to explore what gives you life, what are the activities that breathe life into you, recharge you, and make time standstill. Your strengths. Your natural ways of thinking, feeling, reacting and behaving is what we are talking about here. Think of it this way, mentally stand up if you agree with any of the following statements:

  • You can’t help but remind the elevator that you’re still there?
  • You write to-do lists, even on weekends?
  • Your wardrobe is colour (or other) coordinated?
  • Your inbox is filed immaculately?
  • You have a bookshelf filled with mostly professional development books? And, keep standing if those books are filled with highlights, post its, or dog eared?
  • A red light is just an opportunity to beat the car next to you?

These are all how you naturally think, feel, react and behave

When you can align the work you do with how you work best, you start to feel fulfilled. There are many tools to help you do this. My recommendation is the Gallup CliftonStrengthsFinder. It can provide a language for you to start to intentionally apply in the workplace.

When you know and understand your strengths you can thrive

For example, as someone who has a strength of ‘input’ which helps me to understand, I enjoy the process of consuming, collecting, and categorising information. I take great enjoyment in becoming a deep expert. I have learnt to apply that in my professional career in becoming a deep expert in finding work you love and creating environments you can thrive in. Where that strength was challenged was when I was consulting. I had a very short lead time to turn around a client request into a high-quality solution. It meant I’d be up to 3 am cramming as much information as I could as I was truly compelled (my natural way of thinking, feeling, reacting and behaving) to provide insight, not just rote learn and recite.

Play to your strengths but also know you need to be adaptable

I remember reading this story about air force engineers just after WWII (I’m no history buff so I may butcher the facts in this story). Just after WWII air force engineers were creating high powered jet aircraft, to which the pilots would proceed to crash them at an alarming rate. When the engineers were trying to work out why this was the case, they thought it was the cockpit ergonomics. They thought if they changed the layout of the cockpit to ensure the pilots could reach all the different controls with greater ease under pressure, it would solve the issue. So, they took ten different measurements of over 4000 pilots, averaged out the measures and got to work redesigning the cockpit. Until one engineer asked how many pilots had the same measures as the average that they were now using, as it turns out not one pilot fit the ‘average’ measure. So, what does one do with all this diversity? You do what the engineers did, and you build an adjustable seat.

My challenge to you is, how can you adjust your seat to weave through just a bit more red in the thread of your work?

Melitta Hardenberg is a Melbourne based Leadership Development expert who specialises in shaping organisational cultures to become strengths-based. She is the Head of Learning & Development at SEEK, works with a range of companies to help build and shape cultures to help people lead more fulling and productive working lives at work, and is a self-confessed learning nerd.