The headline blared “Why You Hate Work.”
The New York Times article in the Sunday Review was about issues such as lack of work satisfaction, authenticity, employee engagement, freedom and leadership — things on which Jamie and I have built careers. Of course I was intrigued.
And then. And then…. Nothing new or surprising. Not a single revelation, illumination or expansion of the issues that have plagued the modern workplace for at least 30 years appeared in that valuable media real estate. It was a little disheartening.
The article included this statement of the what-should-be-obvious:
Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.
This article (which one friend of ours categorized as “advertorial”, but that’s another story for another day) cataloged a bundle of workplace woes that have been exposed ad nauseum in myriad ways. It also includes a 2013 worldwide survey of 12,115 workers (94 percent white collar, 6 percent blue collar) done by The Energy Project. This project underscores the rarity of the modern workplace that offers fulfillment and satisfaction. Among the 10 workplace deficits people cited were:
No regular time for creative or strategic thinking
Inability to focus on one thing at a time
Few opportunities to do what is most enjoyed
Low levels of meaning and significance
Lack of connection to company’s mission
No sense of community
Few opportunities for learning and growth
Lack of opportunities to do what you do best
Inability to prioritize your tasks
Lack of overall positive energy
For decades, thousands of books, consultants, leaders and organizations have been dedicating themselves to recognizing and addressing these problems. And yet the problems seem ever more intractable, leveraged by technology that plugs in people 24/7 yet drains them of energy. In addition, the propensity to put profits before human well-being is deeply entrenched, along with an unwillingness to make the connection that the two are intimately connected for true sustainability. We don’t have THE answer, but we know where answers can be easily found:
Everything on this list is something that yoga’s philosophy addresses. Not the Westernized version of “Tara Stiles in a glass box” yoga. This is yoga with no mat required, nor is it necessary to touch your toes, do a handstand or work your feet behind your head. It is ancient wisdom of yoga that offers the modern workplace culture simple, elegant (and free) ways to address all these issues.
The solutions offered up in this NYT article could have been ripped from the Yoga Sutras authored by the ancient Indian sage Patanjali. These simple practices, consistently lived, would quickly and easily solve the top 10 issues named on the The Energy Projects’ survey. Here are a few examples taken from yoga precepts:
Practices in meditation, sense withdrawal and non-stealing (of time, energy, etc.) would create time for reflection and creativity. They also help people develop presence and compassion for others.
The Sixth Limb, dharana, translates as focus — which is about developing and strengthening the mind’s ability to be fully present in a given moment.
Lack of connection to company mission and sense of community could be addressed by non-violence (compassion for others, recognizing human potential); practices in surrender (individual ego is surrendered to the good of the whole, fostering non-attachment); non-stealing (including the time and energy of others); discipline and zeal (ability to hang with the discomfort of change to experience growth) and more.
- The practice of non-greed would put a stop to the corporate practices that foster ever-increasing disparity (outlandish CEO bonuses, corporate jets and other unnecessary perks) as well as elevate compensation for people who do the work (the Costco vs. Sam’s Club example in the article illustrates this.)
Companies such as Aetna, General Mills and the Huffington Post are incorporating yoga principles into the workplace. Other companies, such as Netflix and Zappo's, have policies that aren't called yoga, but certainly reflect the principles. This wisdom is simple but not simplistic. The practices are pragmatic and easily customized. Why not turn to this time-tested wisdom to create modern workplaces that people can fall in love with? In the end, everyone will reap from the benefits.
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