Do we Deserve to Thrive…and not just Survive…at Work?

November 25th, 2022

Do we Deserve to Thrive…and not just Survive…at Work?

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I’m fresh off of a 12-day whirlwind business trip.

I traveled 14,983 miles over 19 flights and 1 bus trip. I visited six countries (while transiting through a total of 11 countries). I didn’t get very much sleep or eat nearly enough. But I certainly accomplished the goals that I set out to when I planned this trip, even if I might not organize six flights for one day the next time around.

More than one person asked me if I had plans for time off when I returned, and while I took Monday off, I joked that there’s “no rest for the wicked” because we’re in the crunch period of the end of the year with a lot to accomplish before 2022 ends and for better or worse, all of that falls to yours truly.

What’s the point of telling you all of this?

Today, I read an article in the Harvard Business Review (my go-to for think pieces), which talks about the 5 Harmful Ways Women Feel They Must Adapt in Corporate America. While the article focuses on the US, that’s because the research done by the authors was done here and not because the results aren’t applicable globally – I can certainly say anecdotally, based on my conversations with professional women around the world that the things that they shared in this piece are relevant for women worldwide.

In summary, the authors say:

Recent research shows that while almost half of women in executive positions considered leaving their jobs in 2021, only a fraction of them actually made the leap. The author’s respective (predominately U.S.-based) research shows that high-performing women often pay a hefty price — in the form of intense pressure, mental and physical health issues, and unsustainable workloads — by staying in their jobs. The authors’ survey of thousands of high-performing professional women reveals five maladaptations most women have adopted to rise in corporate America. Women need to retire these maladaptations, but more importantly, company leaders need to be aware of them and redesign their cultures to enable their women leaders to thrive, not just survive.

The article was like a gut punch for me, particularly coming off this grueling trip where I’m essentially jumping right back into grind mode (particularly since we have the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US this week, so there isn’t a lot of time to get things accomplished). It makes me think that really, we’re starting to be at a crisis point in the workforce, and while I may not have solutions, I do have some thoughts – and I believe that as leaders, it’s important for us to identify and have these conversations when they’re at critical junctures.

Rest is not just earned: Something that I’ve struggled with immensely over the last few years is the idea that rest is not earned. As a child, we did not spend our weekends relaxing. They were for tidying up and other chores. Even though my dad worked 100+ hour weeks, he almost never sat down on the couch to rest. My mom stayed home to raise my sisters and me, but that was her job and she worked exceptionally hard at it, fully managing the house, our schedules, and whatever my dad needed so that he never had to worry about the family. It instilled in me this idea that rest was a means to an end – the way that you recharged only so that you could be ready for the next work-related thing.

Through my running group, the Badass Lady Gang, I’ve learned that not only is rest a critical part of training, but it’s okay to rest just because you are human. It’s not something that you need to earn – rest is an acceptable activity in and of itself. A previous version of Lindsay would have written this post by characterizing rest as a good business decision, because rest ultimately makes us more productive, better employees. And those things ARE true. But that’s not why we deserve rest. We deserve rest because we are human. It’s been hard for me to learn that and I struggle with it constantly.

Is hustle culture even good for companies and firms? I have participated in SO many conversations over the last five years with senior leaders at law firms about the differences in the generations, about work/life balance, about how professionals see the return to the office now that we’ve had a pandemic, the impact of starting a family on a person, etc. There are many of us – SO many of us – who were raised on this idea that companies and firms only function successfully when junior people (and sometimes senior people) work themselves to the bone. That it is both acceptable AND desirable to be accessible 24/7, with your email available on your personal phone (or having both a personal and work phone), working through weekends, working while sick, working through family emergencies, competing against your peers and colleagues as to who can stay the latest in the office.

I’m just as guilty as anyone else – I was hospitalized earlier this year for asthma, and immediately asked my dad to bring my laptop to the hospital so that I could catch up on emails. The hospital staff laughed and rolled their eyes, but no one tried to stop me from working – after all, I was still sitting down, right? Even if walking the ten feet to the bathroom was absolutely exhausting and it took me weeks to fully recover.

But here is the question – does that truly benefit firms and companies? We think that that level of commitment is good and necessary, and so that’s why firms are starting to insist that everyone must be in the office again now. But…is it? Or are happy and fulfilled people better employees? I do know some people who work insane hours who ARE happy and fulfilled employees, because that’s how they’re wired, but it isn’t for everyone. The only way to achieve true success in this, I think is to truly change the culture around the way we work – both inside and outside of the office. Whether that will ever actually happen, I have no idea.

Once again, the burden is on women to adapt. Okay, yes, there is the suggestion that companies too look to adapt their cultures to help women not only survive, but thrive. But the burden is again on women to overcome these “maladaptations” as the authors call them, in order to overcome the crisis that we’re in. And the burden continues to be that much larger for women of color.

And make no mistake, it IS a crisis. The article points this out, but I feel like the lede is buried somewhat in the concentration on what these maladaptations are. Consider that based on their research 49% of women considered leaving their jobs last year. That doesn’t include those who are quiet quitting. Only 8% did leave their jobs, but that leaves another 41% who are clearly unhappy and struggling.

That’s not sustainable. For women OR for companies.

So what are we going to do about it?

Yes, having conversations about it is a good start. Discussing perfectionism, assimilation, sacrifice, solitude and the myth of having it all are essential conversations – women have been having these for some time now and we’re at a critical juncture. But we need companies and firms to step in and start participating in these conversations too.

There are no easy answers to these conversations, but they aren’t going away, so they are necessary and important. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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