Does your job describe part of you or does it define you?

Do you need to address the relationship you have with your career? Our expert Julian Hall poses some challenging questions.

Yawning tired man working overhours

Man covering mouth while yawning at table in dark office having overtime.

Many people describe themselves in their social media bylines using different facets of their life. Father, entrepreneur, creative and husband lets those viewing a profile know not to pigeonhole us.

Still, many of us define ourselves by our occupation or job title. Maybe because we are a little too attached to what it gives us…more than the status. A survey in 2018 by Office Team showed that 39% of employers gave promotions without a pay rise. They can only do that if we let them and that same survey showed that 64% of workers would accept a higher title without a raise. The question is, how healthy is this?

Many years ago employers wanting to get the best out of their employees discovered our emotional needs courtesy of Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs. In brief, they discovered that if they made an effort to value and appreciate their employees they would maximise the discretionary effort that was given. It makes sense that saying “thank you” and “great job” can be motivational over and above the pay packet.

From a mental health perspective, if your sense of self-esteem is not too healthy these little appreciations can become quite addictive. If the way to get the boss stroking your ego is to put in some discretionary effort then pretty soon that becomes the norm. The real issue here is that external validation can never fill the self esteem void. In fact, it only serves to make the gap between self-perception and external validation greater. In other words, the more external validation we get the more we want and need. Before you know it you can find yourself working extra hours regularly and often and experiencing yourself as not appreciated or valued. Little wonder that despite the efforts made the annual employee engagement survey continues to show employees as feeling under-appreciated and valued.

So we love the title, we crave the validation but when we get it the ego high it creates does not last and we have to aim higher and work harder to get the next one.
This is all very well for a career-ladder-climbing-singleton with nothing else going on in their life. What about those of us with families? Like any addiction, anything that distracts from getting the hit can cause resentment. It goes the other way too, how many men find themselves divorced because, as their ex-wife describes it, they were married to the job. Also it’s a precarious existence to put the entirety of your self esteem in the power of someone, the boss, who can take it away. Many casualties of redundancy have felt the crashing depths of depression for this very reason. They not only lost their job but their sense of human value as well.

As you peruse the job ads it maybe worth asking yourself the following:

  • Does this job meet my practical needs of salary, hours and flexibility?
  • Am I more motivated by the title?
  • Will I manage my commitment to the job with my commitment to my family?
  • Am I selling myself the lie that the hours, commitment and sacrifice are for my children? (hint: they would rather have time with you than more stuff).

Finally, ask yourself this question: aside from the workplace, how can I meet my need to be respected, liked, appreciated and valued. Hopefully your inner champion has an answer for that.
As we always say “Self Esteem… the clue is in the first word.”

Read more:

A guide to flexible working rules

How to improve your work life in 2022



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