Do You Have Good Quality of Life at Work? Here's How to Measure It.

This is my original, less edited version. See the one that appeared in Fast Company here

Many folks have asked me recently about my career move from Semphonic (acquired by Ernst & Young on March 31, 2013) to digital intelligence agency Cardinal Path. On the surface, it's easy to point to the larger company environment and the acquisition and say, of course. Yet this was actually a very tough decision. No employer is perfect and I feel I know this well having been one. So what if we could measure quality of life against any employer? Here's how I would, and did, measure it before making the call.

Quality of life at work is heavily correlated to time. We are all such Bisy Backson's so busy, busy, busy. At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to spend less time at work. I really wanted to keep it to the 40-45 hour range. As Americans we wear the number of hours we work in a week like a badge of honor. It's easy to overhear "Oh, I worked 60 hours last week. I'm so tired. Yeah, I worked all day Sunday and part of Saturday too." The statistics on this subject point out that we're not really working at this point. We're just becoming bit-shoveling, mouse-moving zombies. See this story at Inc. Magazine on Why Working More than 40 Hours a Week is Useless.

So my hours are about quality and value. When I spend 40 hours, it's 40 quality hours moving businesses forward, delivering work, checking in with my team, and taking a few breaths to think "what else could we do? what's new in the field?" It's just enough to spark product innovation and creativity which is fun. So in measuring quality of life against an employer, I look at how much time does it take to do a job I feel good about? At the big firm it took me about 55 hours to do what I could previously do in a 40 hour week. For me, this was simply a trend in the wrong direction.

In the corporate quality of life measurement framework, measure time as a ratio between busy hours vs quality work hours. If that's confusing, think of it as things you like to do vs stuff you do not like. At 1.0 you'd be fully optimized. Mine was more like 65/35, meaning 65% of the time I was doing things I felt had little value.

Ability to Change
A big ship, with all its power and luxury, is still hard to turn. Back in my start-up days, the ability to move faster than the big guys was often our sole method of survival. Fewer contractual issues, fewer approval processes, eye-opening innovations, and blinding speed. Exciting and addictive, the ability to move at speed with an industry is critical to digital intelligence.

Part of moving at speed is having the technology, the apps, the access to tools that enable change. Technology is a good proxy for a company's ability to change because the ability to use it causes constant innovation and flexible thinking (Windows 8 anyone?). At EY the technology was approximately 3-6 years (yes, years) behind. And while change was occurring, it was not leapfrogging ahead but simply moving to more like 2 years behind. The sheer force it took to make change occur was incredible. For me, the foreshadowing of effort to simply catch up while my industry charged ahead meant I would eventually lose what I loved most: innovate and go.

In the corporate quality of life measurement framework, measure ability to change as a ratio between existing in-house technology vs current industry technology. In this case I used 1 for current year tech and incremented +1 for every year behind. I then tacked it to a general 1-10 scale. My situation came out at 6/1, meaning the ability to change as measured by technical innovation was a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Companies are like people. They all have specific goals and motivations. Sometimes we are aligned, for example, we both like public speaking. And sometimes we are not, for example, you like cutting costs and I want you to pay for my lunch. The trick is to sort out the minor stuff from the major stuff. And remember, it's rare to have a 100% fit with a company, a friend or a spouse. If you do, wow. Pat yourself on the back.

To measure alignment, list all your gripes of working for the company and then plotting the density of the items on your list as a scatterplot as follows. The x-axis would be how much you care about it (left = not much, right = a lot). The y-axis would be how frequently the issue comes up (low = not much, high = a lot).

Then divide your chart into 4 equal parts and label:

  • Meh - Items in the lower left corner probably didn't even make your list. These are things that do not happen often and you don't care much about them. 
  • Annoying - Items in the upper left corner probably did appear. These are annoyances which probably have a good frequency but you don't care about them as much as other items. 
  • Accommodations - Items in the lower right are accommodations you may be willing to make. These are things you care about, but they do not happen that often so they could be things you could live with.
  • Gotchas - Items in the top right are the real deal breakers. These are items you care a lot about and they happen pretty frequently. 

Note the density of the dots. If you have a lot of left leaning items, maybe you could make some small changes to get over it? If you have a lot of right leaning items, you might want to think seriously about whether your personal goals are heading in the same direction as the company.

You can also do this with positive items. In that case, I'd group them into the following four areas: Meh (stays the same), Annoying becomes perks, accommodations becomes benefits, gotchas becomes jewels / things you treasure.

Deciding whether to leave your company or stay should never be a flip decision. It can be difficult to sort out the larger issues from the minor annoyances but using metrics allowed me to clarify my view and make the right call.