Would you be willing to give up your arm for your job?
What about part of your arm? What percentage of your arm would you sacrifice for your job?
Probably none, am I right? I’m guessing most people wouldn’t regard giving up their arm for their job as a worthy cause.
Rather an odd start to a blog about work, but this was the most enlightening way I’ve heard this described. Nobody would willingly give up their arm for their job, but how often are we having conversations about how much of our mental health we’re willing to trade for that same job? Because we don’t frame it that way, the sunken cost can be far more than we ever intended to pay.
Sacrificing 5% of your mental health, temporarily, might be a compromise you’re willing to make because the outcome has a massive impact on the greater good. Going particularly hard on a project that will have a material impact on people’s lives is an example of something that many would be willing to consider.
But 30% might be having a terrible boss, 75% could be dealing with workplace harassment, or worse, and we all know the list goes on.
It’s hard to quantify “how much” of your mental health you’re willing to sacrifice for your job, but I found it easier to answer when I compared it to how much of a physical appendage I might be willing to lose. Because you know what? My mental health is worth much more than my arm, and I’m not willing to trade on my values or the work environment I’m a part of to lose a percentage of it.
I’m privileged to be in the position where I can make this decision (and luckier still to work with a team of people where I don’t have to). Many people aren’t. Not everyone has the financial freedom that makes it possible to say “I won’t make that compromise – I’m gone”.
It can be easy for employers to see acceptance when what they are actually seeing is a group of people who don’t have any other options. The ugly reality is that many employees are forced to compromise their mental health, in an awful environment, because they need the paycheck. Mortgages need to be paid, groceries need to be purchased, kids need to go to the doctor, and many make the tough decision to remain in an unhealthy work environment to meet those financial demands.
It’s easy to say that you wouldn’t sacrifice a lowly 1% of your mental health for a job…if you don’t need the job. I never thought I would be the person to be advocating for it, but if you’re fortunate enough to be in a position where you don’t have to compromise your mental health, I don’t think there’s a better reason to leave your job.
Why did I write this post?
COVID has caused millions of people to reassess what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. I’ve had many conversations with friends, and old colleagues alike, who are weighing the pros and cons of drastically changing their career path. But it’s a conversation from a place of privilege, and I often see us discussing “the great resignation”, or whatever you want to call it, without consideration for those that would desperately love to change their lives in this way, but can’t.
But times are changing. Speak to any People & Culture or Talent Acquisition pro right now and they’ll tell you it’s a nightmare filling roles. The tides are shifting, and because there are more options around, many of those who would have stayed in a non-ideal work situation are likely drafting their resignation emails as we speak.