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The Most Frightening Idea in Business Today

Warning: What I am about to share might be the most frightening idea in business today.

An employee with a highly functioning personal life is a better asset to your organization than an employee with a massively dysfunctional life.

Now, before anyone gets all defensive, it is important to point out that we all have dysfunction in our personal lives. Sometimes this takes the form of a constant low-level dysfunction, but it may also come unexpectedly as an all-consuming personal problem. The latter usually has an end date, and the former is usually manageable and rarely a huge distraction to a person’s work.

But the incidence and level of dysfunction in people’s lives is increasing. Have you noticed how quickly the world has changed over the past twenty years? Are there any signs that the change is slowing down? Is all the change good? No. So let’s not be naive in thinking the change is slowing down anytime soon, or that the change is not going to continue to make people’s lives more dysfunctional.

Team members cannot check their personal lives at the door like a coat when they arrive at work. Their work is impacted by their personal lives. That’s why employees with highly functioning personal lives are a better asset to the organization than those with massively dysfunctional personal lives. It is also why organizations should invest in helping their people develop the skills necessary to thrive in their personal lives. That may mean hosting relationship courses, personal finance seminars, or health and well-being trainings.

The reverse is also true. Team members cannot check their work at the door when they go home. So we have a responsibility to foster a healthy environment by making their work as fulfilling as possible, but even more so, by treating people like people and doing everything possible to ensure that each new person is a positive addition to the team and culture.

The bottom line is that people who are happy in their personal lives tend be happier at work, and as a result tend to be more focused, have more energy, work harder, and be more productive. People who are unhappy in their personal lives (whether that lasts for a day, a month, or a decade) tend to operate in survival mode, getting done only what absolutely needs to be done. We shouldn’t be surprised. We all experience this type of survival mode when we get sick. Even a common cold robs us of our focus, energy, and ability to work hard, and causes a massive drop in our productivity.

Now, let me ask you a question: Is the average person’s life becoming more or less dysfunctional? More, right? Scary. I know it may not be very politically correct to say, but it just turns out to be the truth. A highly functioning employee with a highly functioning personal life is becoming an endangered species. If you are trying to accomplish anything, gathering a group of people who are healthy and happy in their personal lives increases your chances of success tenfold, perhaps more.

But your corporate lawyers and human resources department are starting to get pretty nervous about this idea and its implications. Because, let’s be honest, you can’t just sit down with prospective employees and say, “Tell me about all the dysfunctional things happening in your personal life at the moment.”

It is also essential to remember that we all have some dysfunction in our lives. It may change from year to year, or decade to decade, but it’s there. The point is not that some people have dysfunctional lives and others don’t. We all have dysfunction in our lives, but some people have an awful lot more than others.

To be clear, I am not saying we should not hire such people. What I am saying is that we need to accept that the education system and society in general have not helped the average person to establish a highly functioning personal life. As a result, if we want to succeed, every organization needs to rethink its onboarding and training programs. These programs need to offer a lot more content that helps people develop life skills. We may think people should be doing these things for themselves, but this is a stale excuse and is clearly not going to happen.

Some will protest that these things are not a corporation’s responsibility. Others have said to me, “This sounds like a form of corporate social work.” Still others will add, “Where is personal responsibility in all of this?” I don’t disagree, but society is what it is and the workforce is what it is, and so, in order for our organizations to succeed, we need to face these realities and improve them, not ignore them.

We are entering a new era of corporate training. We need to.


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