Managers* – Make your job work for you

One of my favorite changes to watch people go through is from working for their job to making their job work for them. Here’s some of the most common differences I see:

Signs that you work for your job:

  • Working more than 45 hours a week
  • Feeling bad about a low salary
  • Spending most of your time on work that feels meaningless
  • Focusing your energy on doing good work
  • A sense that you need your job more than your job needs you

Signs that your job works for you:

  • Working less than 45 hours a week
  • Feeling good about a high salary
  • Spending most of your time on work that feels meaningful
  • Focusing your energy making sure the right people know you’re doing good work
  • A sense that your job needs you just as much or more than you need your job

Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone had a job that worked for them?

In my work as a coach, I see a lot of people on both sides of this spectrum. People want jobs that work for them, but very few have one. There are a large number of external factors (markets, laws, social status, etc) which play a role in this. However, since these external factors are mostly outside of our control, I want to focus on the internal factors.

The two internal factors I want to touch on are both related to playing (and winning) power games.

First, if you think you need your job more than your job needs you, you are giving up a large portion of power to your employer. In this low power position, you’ll be less likely to ask for a raise, to say no to working on Saturday, or to ask for some extra budget to take your team to play whirlyball

Most people forget that while they may need their job, their job also needs them. Yes, you’re replaceable. But replacing people is expensive, and most organizations would prefer to avoid it. Rather than getting hung up in how your life will be ruined if you get fired, be realistic about the likelihood of that happening. How often do your colleagues get fired? How did it happen? What were the warning signs?

Most people I work with are further away from being fired than their subconscious fears would lead them to believe. So if you’re not about to get fired, allowing an irrational fear of losing your job to stop you from asking for things you want is not helpful. In fact, it’s probably destroying your self-respect.

Be realistic about the power dynamic between you and your organization. In most cases, they need you just as bad as you need them. This means you can ask for things you want and say no to things you don’t.

This first power game explained beautifully by Larry David

The second power game I want you to play is to recognize that in organizations, perception is reality. In other words, if you do a good job, but the right people don’t know you’re doing a good job, then you actually did a bad job. Conversely, if you do a bad job but the right people think you did a good job, then actually you did a good job.

This one rubs a lot of folks the wrong way, because obviously it can be abused. I’m not suggesting you abuse this rule. I simply want you to accept its existence. Just like gravity, this law’s reality is not affected by the fact that you don’t like it.

But don’t take my word for it – here’s a quote from the book Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford Business School: “Not only does good performance NOT guarantee you will maintain a position of power, poor performance doesn’t mean you will necessarily lose your job.”

In an ideal world, the right people would see you doing a good job and reward you appropriately. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world.

So who are the right people? The answer is almost always your boss. But to speak more broadly, it also includes anyone who has the power to make decisions which you care about.

Focus less on doing a good job and more on making sure the right people know you’re doing a good job.

If you are perceived as doing a good job and you’re not afraid to ask for things you want, you will inevitably create a job that works for you.

Want help making your job work for you? Shoot me an email at to set up a free session, or click here to read more

*Note – I work mostly with people managers, but I’ve also seen these concepts apply to many other roles (IC engineers, product managers, corporate lawyers, etc).