Sales and Sales Management Blog

July 15, 2010

A New Definition of the Word “Sacrifice” in Relation to Work?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 11:14 am

I’m noticing something of a mini-trend with some of my younger coaching clients—a tendency to redefine the idea of sacrifice in relation to work.

For the vast majority of men and women I know, irrespective of age, the concept of sacrificing something, whether it be time, energy, money, social life or some combination of these, in order to achieve career success has always been an accepted norm.  We understood that in order to have an extraordinary level of career success some other part of life had to suffer, at least as our career was established.

Typically the sacrifice expressed itself in long hours at the office or on the road, missed parties and social events, and sometimes—often in fact–strained relationships at home.  Most of us hoped that our time of sacrifice would be relatively short.  Again, most of us discovered that wasn’t to be.  In fact, for many of us, as our careers developed and as our success grew, our sacrifice to our work increased also. 

All of us over the years have heard the adage that we should “work to live, not live to work.”  Many, if not most, of us wish it were true in our lives.  Yet, for many of us, those 60, 70, 80, 90 hour work weeks continue unabated because we want the financial, emotional, and social rewards associated with career success.

 But three of my younger coaching clients want that same level of success but refuse to make the time sacrifice that we have deemed necessary.  Although all three express themselves differently, they in essence are saying the same thing:

“I want everything you have in terms of career success but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up my social and family life to get it.”

These are not lazy, slothful, ignorant, or new graduates.  These are all very well educated, sophisticated, aggressive men and women.  They have all been in the workplace for at least four years.  All have achieved a fair level of success.  All are considered “up and comers.” 

All view working more than 45 to 50 hours a week as an infringement on their right to a personal life (with certain exceptions such as attending business dinners, parties, and other business/social events).

When asked how he believed this attitude would impact his career, one of my clients said that sacrifice was still a necessary part of life but now businesses would have to understand that they must sacrifice their short-term goals to the needs of their employees rather than employees sacrificing their needs to the company’s goals.

This is an attitude I would best describe as delusional and, of course, self-destructive, not to mention incredibly self-indulgent. 

It’s also one I’m beginning to find more common.  I wouldn’t say at this point that it is the predominate attitude of Gen Y by any means, but it seems to be fairly widespread. 

If this attitude has made something of a beachhead on Gen Y, what will the following generation be like? 

Over the decades the concept of a work week has shifted dramatically.  At one point working from dawn to dusk six days a week was considered the norm.  Certainly in some industries that is still considered a fairly typical work week—at least dawn to dusk five days a week.

Are we at the beginning of a new shift in the way men and women view work?  One that will redefine how companies operate and what they expect from employees?  Or are we at the beginning of a new era of incredible opportunity for those willing to sacrifice for their career?

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6 Comments »

  1. Hello Paul,

    This is an excellent article, which mirrors my experiences when coaching Gen Y students. It also prompted me to think back – yes, it was a long time ago – to when I began my sales career.

    In my early twenties, I was not prepared to make many sacrifices whatsoever, and my social life was everything to me: By the time I moved into my first management role, I began to understand the real meaning of commitment, and for the first time, I identified what would be necessary if I really wanted to achieve my life-goals (admittedly, I had no idea what they were, five years earlier)

    At thirty, Monday to Friday were totally dedicated to my commercial life, and weekends were for family/sport/friends. And you know, I still work with that schedule, which is as balanced as I am ever going to get.

    I do believe/agree with you, that we are entering a new era, and we “Boomers” have to accept that maybe there is another way. Equally, I am adamant that success rarely arrives without total commitment, dedication, and sacrifice.

    My son is a prime example. He identified at the age of eight that he wanted to go up to Cambridge. He then made incredible sacrifices to get there. Once there, he worked solidly for four years to get a “First” – no partying every night, or long sessions in the bar – he worked, and two weeks ago, he graduated.

    In conversation last week, he shared with me how surprised he was that some of his fellow students, who he had always considered very bright, achieved lesser degrees. We debated the importance of matching talent with graft – and he agreed.

    Best

    Jonathan

    Comment by Jonathan Farrington — July 15, 2010 @ 11:34 am | Reply

  2. Paul, you are right that this is more of a cultural trend and not age specific, which I feel is not confined to investment of time and effort alone. There’s an attitude of entitlement; salespeople that believe their customers owe them something and service people that owe nothing to the customer.

    I witnessed the beginning of this behavior in the latter part of 1990’s when unemployment was very low. I thought a good dose of unemployment would turn that around, but the recent recession does not seem to have had any affect.

    Yes, as I have previously commented, I agree that this is an opportunity for anyone willing to roll up their sleeves and invest themselves in their career and clients. And with people of character, such as yourself who are walking-the-walk as they coach by example, and others who are making the sacrifice, perhaps we will see a reversal in this trend that is more damaging to our economy than cheap imports and jobs exported overseas.

    Thank you for writing this article.

    Comment by Gary S. Hart — July 15, 2010 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

  3. As an X-er, I have say good on the Ys.

    Perhaps the recent dose of unemployment / recession / negative attitude are the logical consequences of sacrificing for companies that were themselves self-indulgent and self-destructive.

    I’ve clocked 60-70 hours weeks, but when I look back on what I am most proud of professionally – those “achievements” never come to mind. It is always the people I worked with, the hopefully great things we’ve tried to do & the spirit of helping others that we felt.

    Umair Haque has really helped shape my thinking around this and th notion of Constructive Capitalism. http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/

    Maybe the Ys can figure it out. Maybe they can allocate their talents to organizations that truly value meaningful “work, play & living.” Or maybe the 21st century org will look just like the 19th/20th.

    Comment by Matt — July 16, 2010 @ 10:07 am | Reply

  4. Matt,

    I’m a bit surprised by the number of emails I’ve received from folks of all ages who agree with my Gen Y clients that asking anyone to invest more than 45 or 50 hours a week in a career is selfish on the company’s part and should not be tolerated.

    Jonathan and I are of the same generation–almost the same age actually. Although I’m American and Jonathan is English, the work ethic we grew up with was very similar–do what you needed to do irrespective of how much time required. Of course, it never required just 40, 45, or 50 hours.

    When we grew up the emphasis was on career success. Today the emphasis appears to be on personal “happiness.” The problem I foresee is that those who are dedicated to personal happiness above all is that they also want the trappings of career success. They want the rewards–and they want them on their terms.

    One of the phrases I’ve found fairly consistent from my clients and the emails I’ve received that support my client’s position is “sacrificing for the company’s goals.” When I invested my 60, 70, 80, 90 hour weeks I never looked at it as investing in the company’s goals–I was investing in my goals. I was investing in myself–the company just happened to benefit from my efforts also.

    Ultimately I think there will be no change. There may be a growing number of individuals who consciously refuse to sacrifice to their career, but I believe there will still be a sufficient number of folks coming along who will gladly take up the challenge and make their sacrifices in order to succeed. The consequence won’t be that companies change or that the ideas of work sacrifice changes. No, nothing will change–there will still be an aggressive group who succeed through sacrifice and a group who wants and wishes for and whines and companies about not reaching their desired level of success because they aren’t willing to pay the price. Has always been that way, always will be.

    Comment by Paul McCord — July 16, 2010 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  5. I would think we are at the beginning of a great new opportunity.

    Comment by Sales Skills — July 16, 2010 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

    • How do you see the opportunity playing out–what’s the catalyst that will allow one to capitalize on the opportunity?

      Comment by Paul McCord — July 16, 2010 @ 4:18 pm | Reply


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