There are dead people (among the cubicles). I should know, because I was one of them. Thanks to a festering lack of motivation at work, my last year on the job turned me into a work zombie – until I quit.
Lack of motivation is really a killer. It’s not good for you, your career, or the company you work for. Any knowledge worker who lacks motivation should do themselves a massive favor, and move on to something different.
If I learned anything from my recent experience as a work zombie, it’s that I don’t want to do it again – ever. Here’s how I became a dead man walking (among the cubicles):
Lack of Motivation at Work
My lack of motivation at work grew from a disrespect for the company’s leadership. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But when they prove me wrong, I can lose respect rather quickly.
I saw incompetent executives making inexcusably poor decisions: mistake, after mistake, after mistake, which only led to trouble for our organization and messes that I needed to help clean up. It was all so predictable.
It’s tough to stay motivated when the organization you work with can’t seem to get its shit together. And it’s worse when that shit is directly caused by some of the most highly paid individuals in the organization.
Eventually, it got so bad that I lost interest in my job. I didn’t want to go to work in the morning. I turned into a clock watcher in the afternoons. I was not excited about projects, because I knew they would not reach their potential. I viewed the company as beyond help, and my only salvation was my individual work.
A Work Zombie
I became a dead man walking (among the cubicles). You know the type – people who only do what is required and have no interest in anything else. I stopped caring. The only reason I stuck around was the paycheck. It’s a bad reason to stay in a job. And, like most people in that situation, I stuck around longer than I should have.
It’s never a good idea to stay in a job when you face a serious lack of motivation at work. Only bad things can happen. Your performance suffers, your reputation suffers, and, eventually, your career will suffer. You may even be fired.
Appearances are often more important than the content of your contributions. If you lack motivation, it shows.
That was the second time I’ve made the mistake of sticking around in a job even after I started to lose motivation. The first time, I stuck around because the money was really good and the company’s reputation was too. I didn’t want to give those things up.
Money and reputation is are big reasons why some Silicon Valley companies get away with treating their workers like crap. I too thought they were important, because I was young and inexperienced. They are not.
I finally left that position for something better. But it was about two years later than I should have left.
I Love Work
I love work – generally. I always have. I love the challenges and accomplishments, and I love the feeling of making positive contributions towards a goal that I believe in. Especially, I love to be recognized or commended for my good work. I’m addicted to that shit. Yup, anyone who knows me can vouch that I’m a workaholic*.
*But there has always been an asterisk next to that statement. Work only motivates me if I believe in what I’m doing and I’m treated with respect. That’s nothing unusual. I think most people feel the same way. The problem is that all too often in my corporate career, I’ve had plenty of reasons NOT to believe in what I’m doing.
I’ll Give Any Job 2 Years
My honeymoon with any new job typically lasts about two years. I go in with good intentions and I assume the best. I give people the benefit of the doubt. In the beginning, I want to believe a company is good, honest, competent, treats workers with respect, and has talented executives steering the ship. But all too often in my corporate career, this has not been the case. The truth hurts.
It usually takes me about two years before I can fully recognize the problems. After two years, if I still believe in the company, my boss, and my role, then we’re good to go! I’ve had several jobs that kept me challenged and motivated for much longer. Those were great positions and great companies to work for.
But it seems that nothing good lasts forever. Eventually, even the best companies can hire a crappy executive, or a implement an ugly re-org or acquisition that throws things out of balance. Eventually, problems will begin.
Loving Work, But Not Your Job
Whether it’s in the first two years or later, eventually I find powerful reasons NOT to love my job or the company I work for. For example, I’ve had a few bad bosses (just a few). That will do it.
I’ve also been assigned to do pointless work and to churn analyses that no one will ever read. Yes, my corporate career has given me plenty of reasons not to love my job.
I’ve seen intelligent and capable colleagues treated disrespectfully, and HR departments that couldn’t care less. I’ve endured autocratic directors and egomaniacal executives. (Side note: Why is Silicon Valley such a magnet for pshycopaths?). I’ve been assigned projects that are doomed to fail from the beginning. There’s only one reason to stay in a job like that: the paycheck!
When you don’t believe in what you are doing, or in the people or the organization you work for, it is time to move on.
Make Change Happen
Once you realize you have a lack of motivation at work, there is only one thing you should do immediately: make changes.
Quit, retire, move on, change focus, ask for a new project, create a new project – whatever! Just make a change, and make it fast! The worst thing you can do is to stay in the same, unmotivating position. If you do, you’ll become a dead-man walking.
Reviving The Dead
Change is the only remedy that can revive the dead. As they say, it’s usually easier to change yourself than to change others. So, rather than trying to change the people and culture at your company, it is easier to simply find a new job elsewhere.
Sometimes, you need a good midlife crisis to rejuvenate things instead. In fact, I highly recommend it. My one-year mini-retirement in Bolivia has been exactly what I needed to continue my career. I think I’ll be ready to tackle the commutes and cubicle farms again when it is over – at least for a bit.
But the one caveat about career changes and midlife crises is that they almost inevitably cost money.
And this is why you need FU money.. even if you love your job. Build yourself some real good, sweet FU money. You’ll know you’re there when you have saved enough money to simply walk away from your job and start something completely different. Without FU Money, you may have no choice but to roam the cubicles as a work zombie for eternity.
And once you have FU Money, don’t be afraid to spend it. Switch jobs, start a new career, take a mini-retirement, or just quit with the passion of a good telenovela! Because, you can. Of course, I don’t recommend burning bridges. But, if you feel yourself losing motivation at work, don’t just let it happen. Do something!