I came across an article recently published on Harvard Business Review titled “How to Leave a Job You Love.” Obviously, I had to read it. I love my work, literally, I love everything about it, yet I am often compelled to leave.

There are a plethora of articles about organizations, culture, great leadership, bad management, best companies to work for, what defines a toxic culture, Google divine managers, best hiring practices, why people leave their companies, and so on. “How to Leave a Job You Love” is another article about culture and employees’ engagement.

According to its author, Gianpiero Petriglieri, “We no longer want just respect, security, or money from our jobs. We want passion, fulfillment, and surprise, too. We want, in a word, romance. Recruitment pitches promise that you will find meaning. You will grow. You will be part of a community, and you will help change the world. […] Scholars have spent decades studying what makes organizations win our hearts. It’s called identification. We fall for organizations that reward our efforts not only with good benefits packages, but also with a better version of ourselves.”

Gianpiero Petriglieri progressively clarifies the distinction he makes between job and work, and associates job with the organization but work with our contribution. The job is what we leave behind and that belongs to the company, whereas the work is what we contribute, what contributes to our experience, personal and professional growth, and that we ought to take with us when we leave the company. Traditionally, job refers to employment and an associated transaction. It includes structure, hierarchy, management, policies, compliance, title, role, compensation, etc. Work is the value we add through our art.

“[…] a job will never love you back. But you love what you do, and who you have become, in that job. You love the work, and the people you touch through that work. Those deserve your devotion.”

“You may be shifting your love from your job to your work, and you need to honor the former and embrace the latter. So think twice before you leave. Once about what you need to let go of, and once about what you cannot leave behind. Then make sure you mourn the former, and take the latter with you.”

“I don’t think it’s worth loving a job, or an organization. Let me repeat it: they will not love you back. But if a job, or an organization, helps you find work and people worth loving, then it has been good, and it is worth honoring, both while you are there and after you are gone.”

Fairly, Gianpiero Petriglieri article’s title should be “How to Leave Your Job, When You Love Your Work” because according to him, we don’t love the job, it’s the work and the people that we love.

Then, the paper presents a gap or a confusion between what people are looking for (and that companies are, apparently, providing), i.e. “meaning,” “community,” and “identification,” and the desire to still leave a work that they love. It seems that the dysfunctionality of the relationship between organizations and people due to unmet expectations is the reason for leaving, but there aren’t any specifics about how we go from being “romanced” to feeling “abused.” Clearly, there seem to be one-way expectations that aren’t met.

Joining and leaving a company, we dedicate more than 8 hours a day to, are important decisions, and more importantly, are very personal decisions.

Now, what if, instead of leaving the job, and all we believe it’s charged with, we experiment reversing our thinking and we approach job, company, work and engagement radically differently?

From Waterfall Thinking Legacies to Agility & Growth Mindset

Thinking that our job is to perform tasks for a company is a reductive, passive and victimized approach that I see being part of a residual legacy of decades of Industrial Era, and command and control thinking patterns. We must shift our mindset from followers to influencers empowered to change and improve anything we need.

Now, there is a difference between being empowered and understanding what that means, how to use this newly acquired decision-making capability and influence, and how to apply it. We often see employees leave because they don’t know how to go about solving a problem that they were fully empowered to solve, or they were not able to apply their possibilities or simply tackle a challenge differently. It takes great motivation to turn opportunities into innovation and great leaders to inspire that in people.

“Highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity.” –Adam M. Grant, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

We also tend to believe that empowerment is something we are entitled to have or should be given in a sort of big bang handoff. It doesn’t quite happen that way. When it’s given, we generally don’t know how to apply it and we are unable to fully appreciate it. When we acquire our empowerment through initiatives, experimentations, courage and influence, we learn better how to use it and we appreciate it because we earned it.

Our relationship with organizations is two-way. We should feel empowered to influence the change we need. Everyone, at any level, can change something, anything, as long as we understand that:

  1. We don’t have to do it alone,
  2. And change doesn’t happen overnight.

Own Your Engagement, Create Your Identification and Develop Your Community

The distinction we make between job and work resides in generations of companies that are today obsolete, disappearing, or extinct. Believing that the benefits we aspire to gain and develop, such as fulfillment, community, meaning, and identification, will be provided to us by the job and the company is where we are mistaken. A company and a job only provide a frame.

In modern organizations, we all have an integral and active part to play in our engagement as well as in our growth. Nobody, alone, is responsible for driving our engagement, not our manager, not HR, not our team, not a state of the art campus, ping pong tables, or a keg of beer. If we remove any of them, would we lose our engagement at work? And if we do, wouldn’t it be the symptom of a deeper problem?

If we can’t identify the values we have in place, if we can’t create or influence values we need, how can we expect people around us to do the same? And if we can’t create what we need in a company we decide to leave, what guarantees do we have that we’ll find or achieve this in the next company?

Leaving a work that you love will not solve the problem at hand. We will most likely face similar challenges with the next company. We are dealing with a more fundamental existentialist problem: who we are, what we aspire to become, the better vision of ourselves Petriglieri is referring to. That “better version of our selves” will not derive from material accumulations or structures. A company will not show us who we can become, but our decisions, the ways we chose to engage with people every day, and the art we create for them (employees and customers) will. We need to either rally to existing values, if we can’t find these we shall model new values, and as we do, build a community around the same values.

Identifying to a Moving Target

We entered an era where empathy (as opposed to expertise), empiricism and human-centered practices (as opposed to theory and best practices) are baked in each step of innovation lifecycle.

We are redefining (and by that, literally, we need to come up with new names and/or definitions) work, job, companies, culture, diversity, HR, benefits, recruitment value proposition, resumes, genders, women at work, etc. We are going through a transition in the way we approach relationships, in the way we distill empathy and emotional intelligence into business decisions, in the way we collaborate, we decentralize decision making, in the way we even define and apply trust and honesty at work.

Organizations who aspire to be more agile are in continuous flux. They create nimble systems, networks, and cultures that allow them to not just react fast, but anticipate customers’ needs and market changes. These organizations and their people must constantly be a step ahead. Therefore, it makes it very challenging for employees in search of meaning, identification, and community to find identification or stability in their identification. Identification is possible, but we need to shift our references to different values that are less linear, centralized, tangible, but more abstract and volatile. And we need to be ready to identify to changing references until organizations stabilize, if they ever do.

Jobs and companies become less relevant because of their inability to move as fast as people’s creativity. It’s proven that technology and top leaders’ strategy and mindsets are moving much faster than culture and systems in organizations. Focusing on a job or a company and expecting these to provide us with identification eventually leads to deception. We must find new suitable identification references.

Recent research concluded that employees identify to the impact that they have on customers and to outcomes they directly have on the business. They identify with the customers’ experience through the impact and experience that the product they develop have on them. And when they directly see the impact, through ownership and transparency, when they shape that impact, employees experience a much greater job satisfaction. The company gives them the resources they need to define their impact on customers: people don’t just develop products, they get to decide how these products are developed. Naturally, the “how” is also continuously evolving. Time and more data will tell, but it’s very possible that there is a direct link between eNPS (employee Net Promoter Score) and cNPS (customer NPS).

If You Must, Leave, and Leave Your Work

How to Leave a Job You Love” is about the manner you should leave a company. Gianpiero Petriglieri mentions:

“Take all you can with you, lest you leave yourself behind. Pay attention to the work that you will continue to do, even elsewhere, and make a mental note of how it might develop now that your job is no longer constraining it.”

What if instead of taking our work and craft with us, we leave it behind as well? Instead of looking at taking the most valuable to us with us, we leave it along with “ourselves”? How can I leave myself behind and why would I do that?

Similarly to Agile coaches who work their way out of their jobs, as they fully empower people and organizations, leave your capability and leave a living legacy:

  • Create the culture and the future that you seek elsewhere right where you are.
  • What you believe is valuable about yourself, what people say is unique about yourself and your art, give it to others and train them, so that they can keep your legacy living and improving.
  •  Don’t wait for a job to decide who the leaders and influencers are. Identify, create, inspire, train the new influencers who will pursue your work.

“We often feel tired, not because we’ve done too much, but because we’ve done too little of what sparks a light in us.” – Alexander Den Heijer

The message I would rather give to current and future younger generations of workers, is there’s nothing we can’t change, we can’t fix, we can’t improve, not leave because we have a dysfunctional relationship with an organization that doesn’t romance us anymore. The Latin origin of the noun romance is “a story often exaggerated about knights’ adventures.” At some point of its etymology (17th century), the verb romance meant “invent fictitious stories.” Needless to say that we don’t want to be romanced. We seek deeper and more meaningful relationships with groups, teams, and people, because we understand that these levels of authenticity speed decision making, problem-solving, creativity and innovation.

Today we must transcend jobs and companies, for they are irrelevant. The only tangible experience are the people, employees and customers, who model values and culture, push the walls further, shape the future. And that’s why it is so important to invest in them in new and meaningful ways. As organizations are searching for their path, are reinventing themselves through multiple reorganizations, acquisitions, new products and markets, culture re-set, etc., we have an opportunity to stay and speed their transition into the future of work.

Welcome to the future of work:

  1. Pretend you are a human being
  2. Be empathic
  3. Be Agile