Ask Maynard: How Do I Inspire Hard Work But Not Create Burnout?

August 19th, 2015 / Comments Off on Ask Maynard: How Do I Inspire Hard Work But Not Create Burnout?

Thanks for all of your comments and questions on Ask Maynard. I wanted to address an interesting comment posted to my last post, How to Make the Impossible Possible, about the “miracles” I’ve seen teams achieve, and in particular a challenging project where we raised money for charity at eBay. One of the readers wrote in asking about the long work hours and great efforts required of our employees — a topic that’s generated a lot of attention, and debate, lately given this recent New York Times story on Amazon’s culture.

“We worked night and day, literally, for four nights. Maybe that sounds hellacious, but it wasn’t.”

Why, were you and your team nicely rewarded with extra vacation time or a juicy pay raise? Or were you told “beatings will continue until morale improves”? Miracles can happen if you reward them. If you expect them with an entitlement mentality, they won’t happen.

— Bob Korzeniowski, MBA, CPA, PMP  2ndIT Wild Card, part of a winning hand

Dear Bob,

Thanks so much for your comments. You’ve made some very important points. I totally appreciate that as managers we should never take advantage of people. And, of course, you’re right, rewards are important and we recognized and rewarded the team for its Herculean efforts.

But what I realized from the experience was something more important — the fulfillment people find when pursuing something with purpose. I think all of us felt honored to be able to help in some way when many of us felt so helpless after 9/11.  People wanted to participate in something meaningful and were not deterred by the workload. In fact, this was the only project where my bigger issues were managing the disappointment of the people who wanted to be on the project but whom we didn’t have room to accommodate.

I know the things I remember with the most fondness and pride are those instances when I learned, grew, and contributed.  This is true for so many people. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes the hardest things are also the most motivating and inspiring. 

I truly believe that’s how the people on the team felt. I was so pleased to see David Jesse, someone who was on the team, write in with his thoughts.

I was on the Auctions for America team. Even though it was a brief project (concept to launch in a few days) it’s one of my most positive experiences — the way everyone came together, got creative about solutions, redefined our own process (we accidentally followed some elements of agile development when we otherwise followed waterfall) and of course the output of raising so much money for charity. We did this because it was for a cause we believed in and eBay was in a position to make a huge difference via our community of buyers and sellers. I actually don’t remember if we got a bonus or not, but I do remember the experience and feel good about it to this day. Finding extra meaning in work is a very motivating factor… I feel very rewarded for having been on that project. And I worked happily for eBay for six years after that, where I learned a lot, got to develop my career, work internationally and feel good about what I was doing. I would do it again.” 

For all of us, taking the easy route will never be the path to career greatness. The best talent knows that and clamors to join the toughest and most strategic projects. If you’re not, you’re not on the right career trajectory. 

Be bold and be brave and you will find myriad rewards — both in money and meaning.

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