How to recognise a job worth a long-term relationship


BUSINESS LIFE:A job, it seems to me, is a lot like a marriage. In some ways it’s better, as you get paid; and in others it’s worse, as there are more meetings. Otherwise, both involve a selection process for which you dress up smartly and try to look brighter or prettier than you really are.

Both are heavy-duty commitments, together accounting for the bulk of our time as well as a good deal of our pleasure and pain. For either arrangement to last, the same conditions apply. A decent choice must have been made in the first place, and then it’s down to such underrated things as compromise, mutual respect, effort and (possibly) a certain lack of imagination.

There are, of course, a few differences: you don’t quit a marriage at 65 with a gold watch and a send-off party. Though, increasingly, you don’t quit a job this way either, as retirement is a luxury hardly anyone can afford. You could also say that only marriage involves love and passion. But this is no longer the case. A recent opinion poll of 5,000 British people concluded that passion between a man and a woman lasts on average 938 days; whereas modern jobs demand passion not just for the first couple of years but forever.

Indeed, when Simon Robey, a senior investment banker, recently quit Morgan Stanley, he claimed he would go on being a “passionate advocate” of the company’s “capabilities and values” even after having handed in his notice.

Another difference is in our attitude to ending the arrangement. People tend not to congratulate you when you trade in your existing spouse for a newer model. Yet almost everyone thinks quitting the old job for a new one marks progress of some sort: it shows ambition, imagination, courage and so on.

As someone who has stuck it out with the same employer for 27 years, I’ve never liked this view. A lasting job should be seen as a sign of success, just as a lasting marriage is.

Given the importance of getting the initial selection right, it’s surprising how little advice is given on how best to do it. While young lovers are bombarded with (unwanted) views on whether they have found Mr or Ms Right, no one helps people know if their current job is a keeper or not.

Until now, that is. On the Fast Company website there is a piece called 8 Signs You’ve Found Your Life’s Work which spells it out.

Some readers have responded well: “It’s really amazing when you find your purpose, the joy that emanates is unexplainable. I truly love this article,” one commented.

Though sympathetic to its aim, I don’t love the article. Indeed, seldom have I found so many bullet points so badly in need of shooting down.

Here are some of the recommended eight ways of identifying “the one”, together with my objections.

“It doesn’t feel like work.” If it doesn’t feel like work, it almost certainly isn’t work. In any case, I can’t see what is wrong with work feeling like work. It doesn’t preclude it from being enjoyable.

“You are aligned with your core values.” As I don’t know what my core values are, I’m not sure what to make of this. If it merely means that I wouldn’t want to spend 27 years with an employer whose actions I disapproved of, then I suppose I agree, though that seems too obvious to be worth saying.

“You are willing to suffer.” Absolutely no way. I’ve done suffering in the past and I’m hell-bent on avoiding it in the future.

“You experience frequent flow.” I think this means you get absorbed in what you do. In which case I agree: absorption is good.

“Commitment is an honour.” No it’s not. It’s fine to be committed to a job, though dangerous if it goes too far, and either way honour doesn’t enter into it.

“You fall asleep exhausted, fulfilled, ready for tomorrow.” This rings no bells. When I go to bed with my mind full of work, I find it very hard to fall asleep at all.

The whole thing is not just twaddle, it’s irresponsible. If people take this seriously their chances of finding a job that is “the one” will be zero. Instead, I’ve come up with my own system for knowing if a job is worth hanging on to.

  • The people are nice.
  • The work is often interesting.
  • There is the right amount of it – plenty, not too much.
  • There is the chance to do different things.
  • People sometimes say thank you.

That’s it. Which leads me to another unfashionable similarity between a job and marriage: the secret to success lies in reasonable expectations. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012

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