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How your work frustrations can help make you a better person

Your hangups over the work grind can be turned into resource for self-improvement.

How your work frustrations can help make you a better person
[Photo: Yan Krukov/Pexels]

In a world that loves dichotomies, one particular question stands out in my mind: Are our work lives and our personal lives enemies or allies?

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This was the question posed over 15 years ago by Professor Jeff Greenhaus, who wrote the book on career management, literally, and who is an authority on all things work-life related. Until his widely-shared article, “When Work and Family are Allies: A Theory of Work-Family Enrichment,” when it came to living a happy life, work was public enemy No. 1.

Unfortunately, society still commonly revert to this “work as the enemy” mindset. We think that work is simply a means to an end. But there is much more to work than material resources. Along those lines, perhaps it’s time to revive Greenhaus’ insights and reflect upon all the ways one’s work role can enrich one’s non-work roles (i.e., life, home, family, etc.).

When done right, work can make people a better version of themselves. To help give some guidance on why and how, outlined here are the three primary resources—beyond material resources (e.g., compensation, benefits, investments)—that facilitate work-to-family enrichment.

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Here are three work-to-home resources that can increase your personal enrichment.

Skills

To put it simply, skills are something that you do well. There are several skills that we typically learn from work that can be applied at home with great utility, including cognitive skills (problem-solving), interpersonal skills (dealing with difficult people, making others feel comfortable), coping skills, and multi-tasking skills. Further, work obstacles create opportunities to garner wisdom as it relates to what it means to be objectively and/or subjectively successful.

As an academic, I have several jobs. I teach, research, consult, and participate in administrative committees. It can be hard to prioritize my time. Should my energy go toward my students (who, as professor, are the party who technically “pay the bills”)? How about untenured colleagues whose livelihood depends on getting things published as soon as possible? What happens when a client has an urgent issue? My work role has helped me build up the skill of prioritization. Thanks to some trial and error, I now have a very specific process for communicating and reconciling priorities. My non-work life is crazy-demanding too. And now I have a framework for working through it.

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Perspectives

Perspective entails acquiring a new lens for how to perceive or handle a situation. Some of the most common perspectives that carry over from work to home include respecting and appreciating psychographic, demographic, and cultural differences, being empathetic toward others (especially those experiencing problems), and learning how to earn trust.

One of my favorite work roles is being the chief research officer for Cloverleaf, an HR-tech company. The culture at Cloverleaf mimics their product. The goal is to help everyone—through automated coaching—thrive at work by being an amazing teammate. The Cloverleaf “perspective” is that everyone is unique and has something to offer. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to work through the many differences among colleagues in terms of traits, tendencies, and preferences. This perspective has been helpful in all aspects of my life, including interactions with my partner, kids, neighbors, and more.

Psychological capital

Three broad categories of psychological capital tend to spillover from work to non-work settings. First, positivity in the form of self-esteem (“I am worthy”) and self-efficacy (i.e., “I can do this”). Second, a “get it done” mindset in the form of grit (i.e., resilience in the face of hardships), hardiness (i.e., coping during times of stress), and industriousness (i.e., figuring it out with litter resources/support). And finally, positive emotions in the form of optimism and hope.

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One of the most fascinating companies I’ve worked with is a tomato processing plant in California called Morning Star. Morning Star has structured their company as a holacracy, a model where every employee is a peer and there are no managers. They get things done through peer-to-peer commitments and committees. In data collections and interviews with these employees, the findings are clear. These employees have an unprecedented amount of self-confidence, they take ownership of their work, and they seek out opportunities to build trust with others. They consistently report that working there has not only helped them be a better employee but a better person. This is the epitome of psychological capital carryover.

There are times when work can feel like never-ending grind, but before you check out and revert to tagging work as simply being about material resources, don’t forget that you also have the chance to build up resources from your workdays to help your in other parts of life.

This subtle shift in mindset might just make all the difference, leading to work and family being allies, not enemies.

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Scott Dust is a management professor at the University of Cincinnati and the chief research officer at Cloverleaf, a technology platform facilitating coaching for everyone.

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