I find opting out a fascinating topic, which I suppose is to be expected, as this is what I wrote my PhD about. But what is perhaps more interesting than the things about society, culture, and expectations that propel people to opt out, is what it is they choose to do instead – what they opt in to. The new solutions they create and the lifestyles they adopt potentially tell us a lot about how people want to live their lives and how they want to work, what they think is important, and what it is that makes them tick.
In a world of quick fixes and short-term wins, where the constant downsizing means no one is safe, and where it isn’t unusual that people change jobs every or every second year, I’d say knowing what makes people tick in order to figure out how to get them to commit to any goals, not to mention long-term goals, is pretty strategic.
Considering all the great technological breakthroughs and how cutting edge many corporations are in their fields, it’s actually quite surprising that they just haven’t kept up when it comes to career models and work solutions.
When people opt out they opt in to a number of different lifestyles and types of work. While they basically all opt out of the same thing – the corporate models and ways of working that leave them stressed, exhausted, and without the ability to create a coherent narrative of their lives and work – they opt in to a myriad of different ways of living. Some downshift and move to less hectic areas, some don’t. Some make a complete career change and retrain in another area, some don’t. Some leave the corporate world altogether, and some don’t. Some start doing research, like me, and some become entrepreneurs. The point is, just like we are all diverse with our own personal preferences, people opt in to a way of living and working that is right just for them. Maybe that is the point, through their opting out journeys they create ways of life that are tailored to their personal needs and don’t follow some corporate norm.
There is, however, one thing that is the same for everyone who opts out and in: control. In their new lifestyles, those who opt in, create a lifestyle where they have more control over their time and thus over their lives. This control gives them a sense of coherence and authenticity, and it allows them to do what they love, to lose themselves in their work, without the stress of not knowing how to make time for all their other responsibilities. It seems that control (corporate leaders, pay attention now!) is actually the key, the secret behind how to engage and commit people.
And knowing this, it’s frustrating to see organizations that, for example, have a policy for working off-site, but when asked about it admit that they don’t usually allow their employees to do so, because how can they then be sure that they actually work (yes this is true). We have all these policies like flexible time to make life more flexible and manageable, especially for employees with care responsibilities. But research has shown that flexible time actually makes us feel like we have less time. So all these policies strike me as window dressing without actually changing the way we work or making an impact on our lives. Instead of measuring how much we work – quantity – how about focusing on what we get done – quality? Who cares where we work and how we do it if we get the job done? The thing is, while it shouldn’t matter to our employers (results are results, right?), it matters a great deal to us. We want to have more control over how we work, when we work, and where we work. That really shouldn’t be too much to ask.