How to not make your employees unhappy

Soul-crushing art: not actually a great way to keep people happy.
Soul-crushing art: not actually a great way to keep people happy.

It has become something of a cliché that people don’t leave their job, they leave their boss, and a recent article posted to Reddit corroborated this with a bit of research. I posted a comment stating that my own research supported this, insofar as I had found that management cannot make employees happy, but it can certainly contribute to unhappiness.

I received a lot of questions about the subject, so I thought I would write a brief blog post summarizing my thoughts. What it really comes down to, though, is that a really great boss can help keep someone motivated and happy who is already motivated and happy, but if someone is miserable, demotivated, and doesn’t want to be there, the greatest boss in the world isn’t going to make an unhappy person more happy.

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Team Size, Happiness, and their Relationship to Productivity

Abstract

To address the questions of whether larger or smaller teams are better and how happiness impacts employee productivity, a review of extant research was conducted and then analyzed. The research and paper begin with the recognition that there is disparity in the conclusions that have been reached over time, but final analysis found that smaller teams tend to be more productive; larger teams can overcome the lack of individual productivity through sheer size; and while happier employees are generally more productive, employers cannot necessarily make employees happy. Therefore, emphasis should be placed on organizing work into units that can be assigned to smaller teams, barriers to communication should be eliminated, and employers should try to minimize or eliminate unhappiness caused by the workplace.

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A God in Stormy Seas

This morning at church we sang a song that really keyed in a mental image for me from a TED talk I watched a few weeks ago. Given the context of today’s sermon and everything I’ve been wrestling with over the last few months in regards to passion, purpose, and work, it all came together to be really powerful for me. Rather than write, trying and failing to communicate what I was thinking and feeling, I thought I’d record a video.

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Moving Away From The Middle

I’m finally reaching a conclusion on the subject of God’s alignment and what that means for me as a Christian. I’ve been thinking about this subject pretty consistently for three months now, and my views have changed quite a bit since I began.

When I began, I assumed the following setup for alignments, recognizing that the divisions and contrasts it set up don’t always work in the real world. Nevertheless, I felt this was relatively accurate and reasonable:

Alignment Axes

The more thought I devote to this topic, the less accurate this seems to be.

On Law and Chaos

The axis above sets the dichotomy of Law vs. Chaos. In the context of this series, it is assumed that Law = God’s Law. We’re talking about the Law built into creation by its creator, the law set forth in the Bible, and the law of God that will be made manifest with the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Opposing it is, presumably, Chaos: Satan and his followers, the devils and demons of hell, the antichrists and distractors of this world. Everything that seeks to displace worship from God and direct it to something else would serve Chaos, because it detracts from the Law. Veering from the Law to anything else creates chaos in the sense that it is unordered.

Or so I assumed, but that thought process broke down once I actually thought about it. In observation of the world as I understand it, neither this assumption nor the axis above holds up.

Another way to define these two terms are as Order and Chaos, with God and the Law representing order. As I look at the world around me, both the physical and the spiritual, I can’t escape an important and undeniable fact: there is no such thing as chaos.

Satan and the angels that followed him were created by God as creatures of order. Even when the universe was formless, God was there representing order. God created everything from nothing, and that includes the angels, both those that follow him still and those that rebelled.

And the rebels don’t want to plunge the world into chaos, or so it seems to me. The object of Satan’s desire isn’t to destroy everything, but to turn worship from God to himself; failing that, he would turn worship from God to anything else. If you can’t win, deny your opponent victory. Satan wants order, he just wants his order and his law.

The setup of Dungeons & Dragons, which inspired the axes above, is that there are both devils and demons. One are the fallen angels and the other are primordial creatures of chaos that want to destroy the order of the gods and return the universe to how it was before. I’m not the type to claim that something doesn’t exist simply because I haven’t met it, but this concept of a demon seems entirely fictional to me. There might be servants of Satan set on destruction and chaos, but guiding them is a greater purpose. I don’t think the goal is eternal chaos.

Everything is ordered. From the tiniest atoms, molecules, electrons and neutrons, all the way up to governments and lungs and trees. In the movie SLC Punk there is a scene where the main character is discussing order vs. chaos with another character, and while the main character advocates anarchy as a natural structure, he is easily overcome by the logic of order. Even as a tree dies and decays, it returns into the earth to create new life. Even the process of decay has order to it.

Surely, there are constructs too large for us to see and understand, much like an ant can’t see the pattern of a tile floor upon which it moves, but our inability to perceive order doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In everything I can see, I see order. While it is conceivable that a pocket of chaos could exist within an ordered structure, it seems less likely that order could ever exist within chaos. What I mean is that, if there is a higher pattern, something larger than we can see, it must be ordered. If it were chaotic, our world would be chaotic. It must be ordered, for our world is ordered.

Even the “random” events people might point to, trying to prove that the world is not ordered, are easily explained. Order is undeniable.

So what does this mean for the axis above? In my mind, it rotates. But as it rotates, Chaos disappears, and Law aligns with Good. There is no Lawful vs. Chaotic because chaotic doesn’t exist. The entire line assumes Law. Even devils want order.

Then what of Neutral?

It seems natural to assume that Neutral continues to exist halfway between Good and Evil, but I’m not sure I accept that. On this matter, I am not entirely settled, but in examining the Bible and what I know of the world, Neutral as an ideal doesn’t work.

The issue here is God’s law and order. Within a world based upon that law, Neutrality is untenable. To clarify, holding to Neutrality as an ideal is to commit to balance. It is the Yin/Yang philosophy, which is that Good exists when everything is in balance–to move too far to one side or the other brings imbalance and subsequently Evil. Neutrality is not immorality or amorality, but it is a commitment to balance and justice.

Neutrality in this sense cannot exist within the Christian construct. Anything that detracts, distracts, or redirects from God is by definition evil. That word carries a lot of weight and baggage, so let me try and unpack this.

Picture a line, with Evil on the left and Good on the right. Each has an arrow and at the tip of the arrow is a point. Let us say that the point at the tip of the right arrow is the door to the Kingdom of God. At the tip of the left arrow is the throne of Satan and the proposed new order he represents.

The purest Good, the purest Law, and the purest Order are at the rightmost point. If someone is leaving the line at any point and going in a different direction, even if it is close to the rightmost point, even if it is only a millimeter off, it’s no good. That person has been distracted, and is likely distracting others as a result. They’re so close, but they miss the mark and do not enter the door.

Anything that is not God is against God, and therefore is evil. By definition and necessity, it is therefore separated and separate from God.

If someone is sitting on the line, not going one way or the other, they’re in the same situation. They are not going through the door, and subsequently reside in evil. There is no halfway point, no neutrality, no “good enough.”

There is no Neutral because there is no Law and Chaos. There is no alternate dichotomy. There is only Good and Evil. If you aren’t going through that narrow doorway, you are not serving Good.

But didn’t you think you were Lawful Neutral?

I did, and I began to consider God the same. My struggle has been to define God and, by doing so, to define myself. I want to know what God is so I might better understand what I must become. If God does X, I want to do X, but I didn’t know what X was. All I have are the stories and acts described in the Bible, which leave me confused on this point.

Lawful Neutral is the dedication to order and justice without regard to morality. As stated in the first entry of this series, it’s not immoral or amoral, but rather holds to a code rather than the ideal of Good.

As my thoughts progressed, I recognized that the code to which I must hold is God’s code. It is the Bible and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. If I am Lawful Neutral and my code is God’s code, then that means I am aligning myself to God. But that still left the question, what is God?

With the elimination of Chaos from consideration, and the subsequent elimination of Neutral as a tenable ideal, that leaves only Lawful by which I might define myself. I am not neutral in the sense that I am sitting in the middle of the line–I am actively pursuing God. I am pushing towards that point on the right. And with Lawful now aligned and defined with Good, that leaves only Good by which I might define myself.

God is Good all the time, and all the time God is Good. That is my guidance and definition. A commitment to the order and laws of God is a commitment to Good.

To put it another way, and to my mind a much more accurate way, I am Lawful, not Good. God is Good, for God is holy and mighty. I am not Good because the sin within me leads me astray and pulls me from that line. But while I am not Good, I am Lawful, and by making that my ideal and goal I draw nearer the Kingdom.

What about the definition of Lawful Good?

In the first essay, I hypothesized that God didn’t match with my understanding of Lawful Good. I asked the question, “If God is Lawful Good, then, how do we account for the suffering we see in the world?” I truly do believe that the suffering is part of that higher order, that grander pattern of which we are unaware.

I don’t intend it as a cop-out or a dodge. The issue is that we humans tend to fixate on ourselves and what we’re feeling. We forget that God exists outside of space and time, and we also forget that we were created to be eternal. Whether you believe in God or not, whether you’re Christian or not, you soul is eternal. This mortal coil, this diseased body, will pass after a time, but our spirit merely walks through a door. The question is: Will we walk through the door on the right, or the door on the left?

The question of whether we’re happy or content, hungry or fed, bleeding or hale, is all sec0ndary.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my job, where I ought to be in this life, and what I ought to be doing. I’m not always very happy at my job, and so I wonder if I should stay there. I wonder what God wants.

Several weeks ago while praying about it, it finally occurred to me that maybe what God wants isn’t for me to be happy. That isn’t to say God wants me to be unhappy, but maybe my happiness isn’t his primary consideration. Actually, let me put that another way: maybe I don’t know what will make me happy, and while I assume it’s one thing, it might actually be another. Let us consider the tried and true example of Mother Theresa. She lived in poverty, amongst disease and dirt, and her life was not one I particularly envy. Would we call her happy, or would she call herself that? I suppose she might, and that’s what I mean. Maybe God has a plan for me that is more important than what I think will make me happy, and my assumptions are somewhat irrelevant in that context.

(As an aside, I in no way mean to compare my work to that of Mother Theresa. In that sense, this is a rather poor analogy. It is also worth noting that since I came to this realization, about us not always having to feel happy, I have been far more content and happy at work.)

Maybe to serve God’s plan, we will have to suffer. The Bible talks about being crucified, and while we read that figuratively, it was very literal for the disciples of Jesus. What’s a little suffering if I get to walk through that narrow door? Maybe I’m going about this all wrong.

That’s what I was thinking, and so when I re-approach the concept of Lawful Good (which, having eliminated Chaos, might be better called just Good), I strike my concerns about suffering and compassion. God’s compassion is bigger than mine, and his view of suffering is wiser than mine. I look at a temporary hardship and consider it hard. God looks at it and considers it temporary.

In the face of eternity, it is hard to disagree.

How do we cling to that line and make it through the door?

It seems impossible after reading the section about neutrality. Even if we strive for Good, even if we live as good of lives as we are able and honestly aim for that rightmost point, we will fail. Our sin will pull us off target and we will miss the mark.

Give thanks that we are not saved by works alone. No, we cannot hold true to that line, and we cannot walk through that door under our own power. But Jesus forgives our sins and clothes us in his garments, such that he walks through the door and takes us with him.

Picture it as our starting point being the middle of the line, and we’re shooting for the right. We curve up or down, at times closer to the line and at times further, sometimes veering sharply away from the point and sometimes being almost on target. When we accept Jesus into our lives, when we make him our marksman, he sets his aright. No matter where we are on the chart, even if we were heading left, once we accept him we’re turned and aimed right into the Kingdom.

The matter of faith and works and how that all plays out is a topic for another essay–know that both are necessary, in a sense. But for us to be Good, even for us to be Lawful, we must be pursuing Christ, and we must likewise be pursued by him. We are incapable of doing it on our own.

God is Good

That about wraps up my thoughts. What do you think, here at the end? Have I missed something, or is there something more I ought to consider? Share in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

Dropping Out – Part 2

I’ve had a night to talk with April and sleep.

I.

When April and I were first getting together (longer ago than I thought… 4 years now? 4.5?), I was questioning the value of a college degree. I had decided to pursue a career with Computer Services at Missouri State University, and the IT industry doesn’t seem to care a whole lot for degrees. Experience and knowledge were important, and demonstrable expertise were far more valuable than a degree or even a certification. Therefore, I was considering laying off the diploma-track and pursuing certs to make myself more attractive to Computer Services.

April was adamantly against that pursuit. As she put it last night, until very recently she has had the college diploma on a pedestal. People ought to pursue and achieve it, and those that didn’t were worse for it. I pressed her on this years ago, pointing out people who were perfectly happy and content to work jobs where a degree was not required, and I asked why, in their cases, should they get a degree? She didn’t have an answer, but maintained it was important.

It has always been assumed that I would go to college and get a degree. My family, my friends, everyone around me… it’s just What You Did. For the last several years, I haven’t really had any friends who weren’t in college, and I greatly respect them and the education I have received. I was very proud of going to college myself–neither of my parents had, and only my sister had (and it took her longer than it is taking me). I was going to Do It Right. I went right after high school, didn’t get anyone pregnant, was getting a degree…

II.

The thought of not finishing my degree program does not make me happy. I was pretty upset when faced with the prospect last night.

But the thought of finishing my degree program makes me equally unhappy. What’s more, looking down the road, I don’t foresee its completion as bringing happiness. I feel like I am trapped between unhappiness and unhappiness in this.

So when was the last time I was happy and fulfilled? I have certainly been happy in circumstances, whether spending time with friends or laughing with April, but I haven’t felt happy and fulfilled in life since just before I broke my collarbone.

And what was unique about that time? The semester had just ended and I had more time to write. I was writing for an hour or two daily and six hours on Saturday, and what’s more, I had the prospect of more time for writing in less than a month. ((April and I were traveling a lot for different events at the time, and I was going to have lots of time to write after that travel concluded. Unfortunately, the final weekend of travel, I broke my collarbone and could no longer write.)) I felt like I was finally doing something, and being productive. My life was worthwhile.

III.

As April realized that a diploma is not everything in the world, she said, “Finishing your degree will not make you a better person.”

I wrote last night that I didn’t want to be defined by my degree, but I wasn’t able to articulate that well until after she and I talked more late last night. The thing is, for the last several years my college education has been a waste of time. Except for my Buddhism class a year ago, I haven’t learned anything. For the last several years, I have been showing up, putting in my time, and waiting to get my degree.

Therefore, the degree has come to represent a waste to me. I have wasted years waiting to get this stupid piece of paper, and for what? When I think of everything I could have been doing for the last several years, ((I took most of my major classes early in my college career because I enjoyed them most, so the last few years have been almost 100% General Education.)) it makes me sick. On one hand, if I’m not getting the degree, that spent time was a waste. On the other, it was a waste anyways, and going for another two years isn’t going to change that. It will just extend the wastefulness.

I don’t want to be defined by something that is so worthless and wasteful. I want to be defined by something I enjoy and in which I find fulfillment.

IV.

If I meet with my advisor and she goes to the head of the department and he says, “Sure, no problem. You’ve taken the classes, we’ll let you graduate regardless,” then I will complete this semester, and I will complete next semester, and I will graduate.

It’s a matter of convenience, nothing else. Being seven months away, just the rest of this semester and then next semester, is something I can stomach. I can discipline myself and put my life (my very life!) on hold for another seven months.

If that doesn’t happen (and I can’t imagine them waiving what appears to be an important part of the Bachelor’s degree requirements), I will fill out my paperwork today. I will meet with my current professor and explain the situation. I will drop out.

And then I will begin a book of poetry that tells the story of my college career. I will write and seek happiness.

V.

We don’t have much time here. What our are lives worth?

I have one more quote to pull from the Reddit thread I read the other day.

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

–Mark Twain

I  haven’t had a degree for ever, and my life has been just fine. Will getting one change that?

Oh, and perhaps one more.

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

–Dr. Seuss

VI.

I know the value of an education.

I am no longer getting one, whether I’m in class or not. At best, most of my courses since my sophomore or early junior year have been book recommendations. At worst, I have floated through them (while getting decent grades) just to pass the time and reach the goal of a diploma.

Taking another five classes for the sole reason that they are 300-level or above, and that have no bearing on my degree of study, will not be educating me in the things I want, nor in the things I need to pursue my goals. There is no return for that investment.

Perhaps getting a degree would help me get a better job. And perhaps I will be laid off someday, and will curse not having my diploma.

I will have to cross and subsequently burn those bridges when I get to them. Nothing says I couldn’t go back in the future, and if nothing else, I have learned time management and how to Do College. I’m pretty confident I could pull off 21 or 24 hours of college classes without a problem at this point, ((This is assuming I’ve been laid off and therefore don’t have a job–what would be the point of finishing my degree, otherwise?)) and I marvel that more people don’t.

VII.

April has been learning to live and be happy in the moment. I think I’d like to give that a try.

What would a life fulfilled be like? I think I want to learn.