Startup HR: You Don’t Have to Quit Your Job to Be Happy

A recent article by James Altucher in TechCrunch makes an interesting argument that working for someone else is akin to being a mindless slave and that no corporate environment can possibly be a safe or positive place for people to work.

Putting aside the obvious intent to be dramatic for the purposes of getting the article read, there are some claims that make sense and some that are simply not the truth we have to accept in how we run our businesses.

His points that money does not buy happiness, that excuses don’t cut it for why you can’t do what you want with your career, that your retirement fund is likely worth a lot less than you need it to be—these are sound and realistic. I particularly love what he had to say about understanding what your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs are and that you must feed them all in order to be happy.

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The two claims I disagree with the most are reflective of how we have allowed leadership in our organizations to fail, and how we can create companies that stand apart from the rest.

1. Corporations don’t like you. His point is that companies seek to destroy the career aspirations of the people who work hard and are loyal, that no one in a company will ever be looking out for you, only for what they can take from you. While this may be true in some organizations, I believe that this is exactly what we have to fight against as leaders.

We have an obligation—a sacred duty, actually—to create workplaces that are not soulless wastelands full of mercenary tradeoffs. There are many examples of large, successful companies that care: Patagonia, Whole Foods, and Tata to name a few. But the point isn’t whether there are companies who treat people well; the point is that we as leaders have a responsibility to create those workplaces.

Companies aren’t some nameless, faceless entity. They are created and run by people. People who have values and morals and feelings. We are those people. We have the ability to make our workplaces centers of connection, and joy, and success on all levels, not just financial.

2. You’ve been replaced. He has a valid point that many jobs have been eliminated or outsourced due to efficiencies, technology, and the like. But his claim that “everyone is getting fired, everyone is toilet paper now” because corporate bosses have just been gleefully waiting for the chance to fire people is again buying into a reductionist stereotype that “bosses” are bad people. There are bad bosses and selfish companies who pursue profit as a holy grail that leaves the ground littered with bodies, that is true.

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But profit is not, in and of itself, an evil motive. Profit is what drives growth, and fuels our economy, and creates abundance for all—when it is combined with purpose. Entrepreneurs don’t start companies simply to generate profit. Of course they want to succeed, but most people create a product or a company because they believe in something. Because they have a purpose, a drive to provide something, or fix something, or improve something about our human experience. As John Mackey and Raj Sisodia note in their great book Conscious Capitalism, “business is noble because it can elevate our existence.”

That is our true purpose as leaders. We have the great privilege of being able to create organizations that elevate the human existence. What a profound gift we have as leaders when we see our work and our companies this way, rather than giving into the popular notion that corporations are bad and inhuman.

Are you willing to make that shift, to take that stand? How are you going to be the leader who proves the stereotype wrong?