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The Grass Isn't Always Greener [6 Foundational Layers of Career Happiness]


There's blood in the water, and head hunters are circling. As companies struggle to figure out how to balance working from the office safely, while modifying the work-from-home policy, and deciding how all of it impacts the bottom line, head hunters are out there trying to capitalize on that vulnerability. Some of you may have already been reached out to via a flattering LinkedIn message on how perfect of a fit you are for their great opportunity. They usually try to expedite the hiring timeline, needing to do the interview very soon, or they may even disguise it as a simple discussion with "formality" to follow. The offer follows soon after, and much of their tactic is about quickness. How quick can they get from engaging you, to hiring you. They know the more time you have to think about it, the more time you have to talk to mentors and coaches, and the more time you have to realize the grass may be a shade greener and ask the questions- but how small is the yard?, how often is it maintained?, who maintains it?, why you? and why right now?

I've been reached out to before so I know the flattering feeling you get when you receive the message. Someone is interested in you. It does seem a little less flattering when you know they are professional flatterers, who are paid to flatter. Nonetheless, it feels good. Often times they try to boil down career decisions into compensation, location (which is currently the working from home vs office status), and potential industry growth. That's it. As if your career happiness has only three levers. But career satisfaction has layers and though those three make up some of the high level layers, they don't even touch the surface of some of the most foundational layers of career happiness. Here are six of those layers:

1. The Quality of Your Manager

Outside of you, few people have the level of direct influence on your career in the way your manager does. This is why the saying goes, "people don’t quit companies they quit managers". If you're fortunate enough to have the support and empowerment of a great manager, do not trade that away for anything. Most of us have had a poor manager in our career, and no matter how much they pay us or what the job is, you'll never obtain complete career happiness with a subpar manager. If you're looking to flee your current manager by leaving the company, remember- there is no guarantee that your new manager will be any better. You may be trading in Darth Vader for Thanos.

2. Your Opportunities to Grow Personally & Professionally

Personal and professional growth is often done outside of the day to day grind of work. It can be over lunch, during mentorship sessions with your manager, classes or seminars, and various involvement opportunities. Some companies put that on their employees. It's your job, if you want to improve, improve. They care more about the output of your grind, than the input of your development. Stagnation is not something I do well with. Next to wanting a great manager, I would like guidance, direction and opportunities to continuously grow.

3. Career Advancement Opportunities

Once I have worked to development myself, through the guidance of my manager or other mentors at my company, I would like an opportunity to take on more responsibility. Often times this may be what people are seeking when they look to leave a company. They feel they have developed and are ready to take on more than the company is willing to put on their plate, and the company is no more than bureaucratic red tape in their way to the top. That my friends, is not what I mean when I say "Career Advancement Opportunities". Career advancement opportunities are not limited to titles, pay increases, and the number of people reporting to you. They're opportunities for you to take a step forward, to learn, to push yourself and develop. Your career is not a race. You can always be creating more value for the people around you from where you stand today. Career advancement opportunities are also rarley handed out to those who are not actively seeking them. Those who do not speak up, and aren't on the ready to reach out and grab them miss out on potential growth opportunities. If your reason to leave a company is because you have not been handed an opportunity, or "been made aware" of an opportunity, I promise you that problem will follow you because it's not a flaw in your current company, it a flaw in your approach to, and understanding, of what career advancement opportunity means.

4. Sense of Community & Belonging

Community is what is built during your time at a company. It's constructed through shared experiences, reinforced by the commitment to mean what you say and say what you mean and culminates in a bonded reliance on one another. Real community and a sense of belonging cannot be faked, nor happen overnight. It takes time, and can easily be taken for granted until it's no longer there and you're trying to rebuild it from nothing.

5. Autonomy to Create & Innovate

Some companies equate high compensation with "more control" and less autonomy. The, "I'm paying you more to do what I say" approach. Your ability to create, innovate and be uniquely you is a very important foundational layer to career happiness. If you have it, don't give it up!

6. Personal Values Align With Company Mission

This goes beyond the stated mission of the company. It's less about what they say their mission is and more about what they stand by and how they reflect that mission in their day to day. Companies pay plenty of money for branding and outward facing rhetoric, but what do they do to encourage and enable behavior that aligns with that mission. Then, even if they do stand tall by their mission, do your personal values align with that mission? Do you need to trade away any parts of who you are or what you stand for to embrace the culture and mission of the company? If so, it's not worth your time and consideration.

Remember, if the new job offers substantially more compensation than your current company, there is usually a good chance there is a trade off somewhere. If they're willing to pay at the upper end of market value or even above market value, they're paying for you to take on work that others probably will not do for the current market rate. They are probably struggling in one of the 6 foundational layers of career happiness I just talked about. If you're considering leaving your current company, or have been reached out to by a head hunter….

I ask two things of you this week:

  1. If a head hunter reaches out to you ask them about some of the factors outside of compensation, location and industry growth. Ask them about their manager, the team, your level of autonomy, their training program, how career development works, the mission of the company and how they stand by it. Be sure to ask for tangible examples of all of those because it's easy to say, "yes we have that". Those are some of the foundational elements that will directly effect your day to day career happiness, and often go unvetted. Don't let them trick you.

  2. If you're considering leaving your current company based on them missing the mark on one or more of the 6 foundational layers of career happiness listed above, I challenge you to give your company a shot at redeeming themselves. Talk to leadership about where you think they're struggling. There is a good chance if you're feeling that way, many others are feeling that way too, and they owe it to their employees to address their deficit.

I understand that sometimes compensation is king. You have mouths to feed and bills to pay, and career satisfaction is a luxury you can't afford right now. I do have respect for those willing to do what needs to be done to make ends meet at the end of the day. I was raised by a great woman you made those same choices. But I urge you, if you can, make career decisions based on more than compensation and location. Career happiness is a tapestry woven strand by strand with intent, encouragement and enablement. Don't let a hungry head hunter try to diminish the tapestry you and your team have created for yourself. Ask those deeper questions, allow yourself time to process, assess and speak with mentors, and make certain your decisions are intentional and you lead your career to happiness.

Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer. #leadyourcareer

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