Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happiness from jumping off the corporate ladder

One of the most interesting people I ever met at Accenture was a lady named Joan. She also was one of the happiest people I met there.

She was interesting because she was an anomaly.

You see, Accenture, like many many companies, puts people on a plan. You're expected, and you in turn expect, to be promoted at methodical intervals. Analyst to start, Consultant 2-3 years after that, Manager 2-3 years after that, Senior Manager, and onward (or some timeline like that).

"Up or out" is the motto many of these companies share about their career paths.

Well Joan was an anomaly because she just didn't give a shit about getting promoted.

Joan had remained an Analyst for something like 10 years. She just bounced around the company finding things that interested her. She'd work on this for awhile, then work on something else.

I'm pretty sure you think she must have been a "bad" employee or had Uncle Joe at a high level keeping her at the company. Nope. She was a great employee. Happy to do her work and take on stuff she's never done before and work hard at it. I have no idea how she finagled her way out of the "up or out" path, but it's likely she just opened her mouth and asked for radically different assignments.

And she couldn't be promoted though because she wouldn't stay long enough in any spot for anyone to sponsor her promotion. She was always doing something very new with new people.

I bring this up, because I can't help notice that most people I've ever met at any company aren't truly happy about their promotions. They get excited about the raise it brings. And they get excited to check off another goal that's expected of them off their list.

But most people I've met end up more stressed after their promotion. A new promotion means more "responsibility". More responsibility means, really, more stuff to do in the same amount of time. After the promotion, it doesn't usually mean just thinking at a higher level and applying the things you've learned to help enable the people below you. I'm obviously not the only one to have noticed this either.

"British researchers found that when people get promoted, they suffer on average about 10 percent more mental strain and are less likely to find the time to go to the doctor." - Live Science

While I knew Joan, she was eventually promoted to Consultant. I believe mainly so that her bosses could justify in print her getting another raise. But I hope she's remained happy and stayed on the right path for her.

I don't have a 12 step program for a better organizational structure that everyone needs to adopt. But I do think we should take notice that the carrot & stick approach to encouraging employees, and using "promotions" as one of those carrots has gotten us off track of finding out what could really make our organizations happier.

I also think it's a great lesson that we can already want we have, and find happiness without achieving what we think we are supposed to achieve.

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