Zen and the art of management

By on January 27, 2014

Alain de Botton thinks you can’t achieve fulfilment at work – but managers just need to change how they think, says Jan Hills.

I heard philosopher Alain de Botton speak on professional fulfilment recently. He said we should not expect to be fulfilled professionally, and that the ancient Greeks thought anyone working for a salary was a slave.

But are we setting our standards too low? Has de Botton himself been mired by unfulfilment and interpreted his findings in a way that underestimates the potential of leaders to create an environment where fulfilment can be achieved in business? I think employers would be wise to ignore De Botton and concentrate on making their workforce as fulfilled as possible – because an unfulfilled workforce costs employers in the form of higher absenteeism and increased staff-turnover.

The results of an international study into worker satisfaction (undertaken by recruiter Randstad and conducted across nine countries, every quarter over the course of the last three years, and interviewing more than 45 000 workers in total) suggests that, in the United Kingdom alone, 10 million people are professionally unfulfilled. 

In my view, if are to improve fulfilment levels, then it is the leaders who will make the difference.  No leader can make an employee fulfilled but they can create the environment.

Leaders have got into a bad habit of telling people what to do.  It is, after-all, far easier than taking the time and effort to set a purpose, involve people in the goals, get to know people and their ambitions, and manage the myriad of issues that engaging the team’s view creates. 

But, like any habit, this telling style has a rational reason for its existence. The brain will always try to take the most energy-efficient route. Behaviour which is repeated is moved to the older parts of the brain – the habit centre or basal ganglia – making it 

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