I recently read a headline touting Amazon as the best place to work in the world, based on the analysis LinkedIn did on its users and the billions of actions they took last year.
These claims are dubious of course (research Amazon’s corporate culture and you’ll get plenty of returns calling it ‘bruising’ or ‘prison’), but each year there are dozens if not hundreds of ‘best places to work’ lists.
I don’t get it.
Why do we rank companies based on someone’s idea of what makes them great to work for?
Who decides the criteria of what makes a company great to work for and why should we believe them?
And perhaps most importantly, why do we think a company that is a great fit for one person will be equally great for the next?
It probably won’t be – we’re not automatons (as much as many corporations would like us to be). What makes work (and by default, the workplace) great is very subjective and personal.
The greatness of work is something that has to be defined by the individual – by each and every one of us on our own and for ourselves.
Best places to work lists are a shortcut – no, they’re worse – they’re a dead-end.
They lead us to think, “Well, if I only worked there then I’d be happy.” or “If my company were more like Amazon, then maybe I wouldn’t be so miserable.”
These lists mislead us. Of course, one has to question methodology – it’s a PR thing, a popularity contest, the biggest always win, what do they measure anyway…?
More importantly, though, these lists make us think that how we experience our work is dictated by where we work.
That’s a problem.
Too often, the source of our discontent at work isn’t about where we work, whom we work with or even the nature of our work. It starts with us – you and me and how we think about our work: what we expect from our work, what we are willing to give to our work, and why we’re doing the work in the first place.
Accountability, intention, and ownership are critical ingredients that are missing when we look to our employers to be the champions of our experience at work.
It’s not about where you work, it’s about understanding why you work.
I wanted to say something grand here about how no one seems to want to be accountable for themselves anymore but it sounded trite and generalizing and condescending, so I didn’t. But it’s true and it applies to work too.
By entering into an employment contract, suddenly we shift the responsibility for our satisfaction, engagement, or happiness with our work to our employer.
We lose our voice and fall into line – we do what we’re told instead of asking for what we want. We forget what it was we wanted to do with our work or worse, stop thinking altogether.
What if we took more responsibility for our own experience at work?
Accountability is a shift in mindset – it’s a decision to be active and engaged in your experience at work.
It means overcoming the fear many of us have of ‘rocking the boat’ and being courageous in our quest for meaningful and fulfilling work – a noble and worthy pursuit.
Too many of us are content to walk the path that is laid out before us without considering what we want from our work and why.
Is it simply an income? Is it growth & learning? Is it a short commute? Is it leaving a legacy? Is it rapid advancement? Is it harmony with the rest of your life? Is it some combination of things?
Whatever it is, you have to interrogate yourself for the answers. It’s not enough to regurgitate what sounds good, or simply take what you’re given by your employer.
You have to understand your criteria for meaningful and fulfilling work and why these things are important to you.
Do a reality check – ‘does this thing really matter to me or is it something I think should matter?’
I lacked intention in my work for many years, choosing the path of least resistance and making excuses for why I couldn’t change – ‘I invested too much time to get where I am’, ‘I make more money now than I could doing something else – I can’t afford to start over’, ‘I don’t have the training or experience to try something new’…I made a lot of excuses!
Excuses like the ones I made are signals that you’ve lost the intention in your work.
Being intentional isn’t only about acknowledging when something isn’t working or focusing on what’s lacking. It can also be about taking a moment to acknowledge what’s great about your situation and embracing the abundance in our lives we so often overlook.
Questioning the intent behind what we do and why from time to time is healthy. It affords us the opportunity to reflect, take stock, consider if there’s anything we’d like to change while showing gratitude for the things we’re grateful for.
Once we’ve defined what it is we want from our work and why we also have to take ownership of making it happen.
It’s not enough to be intentional, you have to figure out how to get it and then go after it.
Intent without action is hope and as you may have heard before, hope is not a strategy.
What does ownership look like?
We could articulate what it is we want to do more of and why, and then pitch it to our boss. We could ask to do less of the things we don’t want to do. We could suggest changes that might benefit us so that we could do our best work. We could take some time to identify our own criteria for what makes work great and use that to inform how we do our work.
If you’re reading this and saying, ‘yeah, but not with my boss’ or ‘I don’t have that kind of freedom’ or ‘this is only for entitled millennials’ then you’re making excuses and lacking intention.
This all sounds easier than it is – sure. Like most things worth doing, it’s hard. There’s some risk involved (but be careful not to overestimate it). Owning your experience at work requires courage.
It’s easier to make assumptions about the response you might get if you speak up, and stay quiet.
But if you don’t own your experience at work, who does? At worst, no one. At best, you’re lucky enough to work with someone who will try to decipher what you want from your work, but how can they?
Of course, we can’t always have everything – so you also have to own the trade-offs you’re willing to make (and for how long).
The next time you see a ‘best company to work for list’, ask yourself what your criteria for the best company to work for would be, and then compare that with your reality. If your current situation looks nothing like your criteria – it’s time reassess whether you’re holding yourself accountable for, being intentional about and owning – your experience at work.
Neill Beurskens is Founder of This Fearless Life and creates profound change for incredible people looking to get more out of their life and work. To explore the possibilities of a life lived fearlessly visit www.thisfearlesslifecoaching.com