by Alan Collins
“Sarah” (not her real name) was one of the most knowledgeable employee benefits directors I ever worked with.
However, during the last few years of her 30-year career in HR, she had developed a reputation for being sarcastic, bitter and for pissing people off.
Sadly, when she decided to retire, very few of her colleagues asked about her future plans.
They didn’t give a rip.
But I did. (Perhaps I had a death wish). Anyway…
Since she was still relatively young and truly brilliant at what she did, I inquired if she would be doing any employee benefits consulting work since she was now free from corporate handcuffs.
Her response: “HELL…F*CKING…NO! I’m done doing benefits forever.”
“I’m going back to South Carolina to work in my sister’s thriving gardening business. I love being outdoors. I’m passionate about the preserving the environment. And I absolutely love cross-breeding flowers to create unusual varieties, colors and sizes. I can’t wait to get the hell out of here.”
While her direct, in-your-face response didn’t surprise me at all, her answer sure did. I had no clue what she did away from work.
And I didn’t think any more about our brief conversation until we ran into each other a year later when…
I didn’t recognize her.
She was tanned, twenty pounds lighter and her short brown hair was now tied back into a long, stylish ponytail. And I couldn’t help but notice a small rose she had now tattooed to her neck.
But what struck me most was the bright, beaming smile that never left her face.
She couldn’t stop talking about everything she was doing now and how excited she was about her new career in gardening. I couldn’t believe the impact this life change had made on her and I mentioned how great she looked and happy she seemed to be.
She told me that, after all these years, her transformation happened only after pursuing something she was truly passionate about.
In my mind I wondered: “What a shame. All those years wasted. If her passion involved the outdoors, gardening and flowers, why in the heck would she sit in a corporate office cube for 30 years crunching health care numbers and recalculating benefit rates over and over until she was blue in the face…bitter and pissed off at the world?”
But I didn’t dare say this. This was the most pleasant I’d ever seen her and I didn’t want to bring out her demons or ruin this moment.
However, I didn’t have to. She confessed that, while she really liked employee benefits work, it wasn’t her passion. She loved her life and career now and had felt stuck in that old benefits job because she couldn’t afford to give up that nice corporate paycheck. And every day she stayed put only soured her more on the job and the people she worked with.
It made sense to me.
I know lots of HR folks that don’t have the luxury of dropping their HR gig like a hot potato, put their financial well-being at risk, just to chase other interests and passions.
I get it. I really do.
But…you don’t have to do what Sarah did.
You don’t have to bury your interests, passions, hobbies and pursuits you have OUTSIDE of work or keep them separate from your HR endeavors.
There is MIDDLE GROUND. And it is to…
Bring them into your HR day job to make your
life at work more enjoyable, exciting and fulfilling.
Now, of course, this strategy isn’t for everyone.
Understandably, some people would prefer to not to mix their personal interests and their work pursuits.
And frankly, some passions are entirely inappropriate to bring into the workplace. For example, if you’re into porn, serial dating or political or religious extremism, you’d be wise to keep your personal and work interests separated.
However, to spark up or energize your work life, you CAN incorporate conventional passions like: antiques, cooking, fitness, movies, golf, sports, biking, hiking, collectibles, animal care, crafts, social media and hundreds of others like these into your HR job
And, if you’re interested, here are a few tips for making it happen:
1. Look for role models in or outside of your workplace.
One of the my role models in this area is Jeff Carroll. Jeff is currently director of Leadership Development at Northern Illinois University and a former HR executive.
His passion is classic rock ‘n roll music, especially tunes by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and The Rolling Stones.
He incorporates rock music into all of the presentations he makes to students and his corporate clients. He uses rock lyrics and quotes to get across key ideas when coaching corporate executives. He’s also working on his first book addressing new rules for career management based on…you guessed it…rock music.
All this makes Jeff distinctive, interesting, in-demand and keeps him pumped up about his day job.
In your case: Are there projects, presentations, programs, co-workers, clients, situations, products, and critical business needs that might be waiting to incorporate those things you’re truly passionate about doing AWAY from work?
2. Connect with like-minded groups within your organization.
Next, find other people at your workplace who share a similar interests. Ask others: “What do you like to do for fun? How do you spend your time away from work?” If the company is of any size and your interests are anywhere near the mainstream, you’ll likely discover others who share your passions.
In Sarah’s case, her conversations could have started with people in our company’s Employee Activities Committee. Most organizations have volunteer groups like these whose job it is to provide fun activities which engage the workforce. Participating could have offered Sarah opportunities to:
- Help plan a summer get together (being outdoors)
- Coordinate the company holiday party (floral design and decoration)
- Sponsor fund raisers (a plant sale)
- Or send floral arrangements to hospitalized employees (direct interaction with florists).
3. Above all, don’t walk around being a grouch — at least, brainstorm the possibilities.
Despite being an expert in employee benefits, Sarah wasted many years making herself and those around her miserable. She walked around bitter and angry at the world, which prevented clients and her colleagues from wanting to work with her.
Instead of griping like Sarah, try drawing two circles and listing the core aspects of your organization in one circle and the core aspects of your passion in the other. Then brainstorm ideas for how you could bring your interests and passions to work or how you could connect them to your current company’s business. Finally, see if there are places where the two circles intersect.
In Sarah’s case, her brainstormed list of possibilities could have included:
- Leading an in-house task force to improve the landscaping around our office building
- Consulting with our factory locations on the landscaping and design of their facilities
- Working with the building staff on plants in offices.
- Identifying ways to spruce up outdoor corporate meetings and conferences
I don’t know if any of these would have interested her. But they certainly wouldn’t have hurt. And I’m sure she could have identified fifty other possibilities like these that could have generated more excitement for her at work.
Worst case scenario: If you’re burnt out on the HR work you’re doing, look for another job rather than fuming.
All that said, let me wrap up with this…
Bringing your personal passions, your interests and your full authentic self to work and connecting with others who share them is just ONE WAY…but a terrific way… to infuse more excitement into your day job in HR.
And when you’re truly energized, engaged and fulfilled on the job, there is no end to where you can take your HR career.
Think about it.
Now it’s your turn. Are there ways you’ve brought your off-the-job interests and passions to your HR job? Share them with us below by clicking HERE. Thanks!
Want more inspirational tips, quotes and short stories to keep you on top of your HR game? Then check out: WINNING BIG IN HR: 100+ Powerful Strategies For Accomplishing Great Results Faster & Getting Your Clients To Rave About You As A Human Resources Professional! You can download additional FREE excerpts from the book by going HERE.
About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals including WINNING BIG IN HR. He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.
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