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I read recently in Psychologies magazine that working is about exchanging your life force for money. Think about that – exchanging your life force for money.

Why do we do it? We do it because we need to fulfill the lowest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – our physiological needs – food, water, shelter and clothing. We also work to fulfill the next level of human needs – safety and security. These are our basic needs, the same as every other animal on the planet.

It’s just that as humans have evolved we’ve put in the extra step of earning money in order to buy food, water, shelter, clothing, and our safety and security. So we jump through hoops to achieve this.

I often get a graphic picture in my head of humans as a pile of seething rats constantly trying to climb over each other for the cheese. Yes, we are in the “rate race”. The “cheese” is meeting our basic needs, then our psychological needs such as belonging and love and esteem, and finally, our self-fulfillment needs such as “self-actualisation” or achieving our highest potential.

So when we have a job, we are pushing to fulfill our needs – all of them, from the lowest to the highest. We want to be “given the money”! We want the BM, the Audi, the mansion, the expensive meals, the international travel, the designer clothes, and the designer partner. What does all of this come with? A company and a boss, and these can make or break you.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has been “working for the man”, helping an abstract idea of “the company” achieve profits and success and “market share”, and our bosses have pushed and pushed and pushed for more and more and more. Have you heard of “telepressure”? A new term; it refers to the modern scourge of employees never being able to completely relax and disengage from work.

Wasn’t it exciting when you company first gave you a cell phone or a laptop or a tablet – beautiful shiny things. Wonderful! But, while we were distracted by these beautiful, shiny things we didn’t notice that our boss could phone us at 7:30pm in the middle of family dinner or send us an email at 5:30 in the morning, or text us at 5:32 to check if we received the email or phone us at 5:35 to check if we got the email and the text. Suddenly clients could send us demands for a project report in the middle of a Sunday afternoon picnic and our boss could WhatsApp us to demand the same project report. We became workers 24/7.

And what happened? According to Forbes magazine, “prolonged stress response”. So we are at risk for heart disease, depression, obesity, immune system failure and decreases in cognitive performance. Consider this against the idea of your “life force”. Counter-intuitive isn’t it?

In 2016, we’re not exchanging just time and energy for money; we are exchanging our life force – our being – for it. Thinking about it in this way, how would this change your reflection on your life on your death bed?

The challenge of this second millennium is work/life balance; according to Travis Bradberry of Emotional Intelligence fame, it is for us to be able to “balance being professional with being human”.

Luckily, the kickback is starting, Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post has written Thrive – “a clarion call and a practical response to the question of how to live”.  Google gives its employees, aka “Googlers”, the space to pursue their passions.  In fact, over a quarter of their work time is allocated to this. And the thing is that bosses and employers are actually finding that their staff is more productive!

Yes, you owe your boss and your company a job well done, but you don’t owe your boss:

  • your health
  • your family
  • your sanity
  • your identity or
  • compromise on your integrity

People come first, not sales, not profits, not branding and not the company mission statement.

The Buddhists have a fascinating take on life. They believe that we are each born with a certain number of breaths in us and once these are done we die. So their philosophy is simple: breathe more deeply and slowly, and your life will be that much calmer and longer.

The lesson is to exchange your life force judiciously and if you are a boss, to do that for yourself and your employees. Nobody wants to feel like lead.


The IE Group offers coaching to explore the “Sacrifice Syndrome” as part of our stress management programmes. Please let us know if you’re interested in a complementary assessment.  

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