How do You Know When to Quit

7 09 2008

Last month, I came across a fascinating case analysis by Achal Bhagat in Business World, The analysis provides us with a framework which with proper reflection on the contexts can be applied to understanding organization culture, career planning and even conflict management.


Here is the nub of  what Achal Bhagat says :


All of us travel our life’s journey on four dimensions in parallel :


·        Abuse to dignity

·        Helplessness to control

·        Alienation to togetherness

·        Suffering to purposefulness


We spend our lives charting course in these dimensions in various domains of life like work, relationships, leisure, communities etc. We like celebrating events that allow us to feel a movement forward, and feel sad and angry when we stagnate or move backwards. Each time we move away from dignity, control, togetherness and purpose, we panic and feel that we may lose all and forever.


All of us are caught in this “one step forward three steps backward trap”. Our movement on purposefulness by achieving the sales target makes us feel more alienated. As we feel more isolated, we need to control our environment more and more. The more we do that the more we suffer, because we are going against what we think ourselves to be. We are in a spiral trying very hard to shoot our way out of it. Obviously, the harder we try, the more difficult it becomes.


I found this simple framework very powerful as it is devoid of any simplistic hierarchy of needs. It helps us to integrate the emotional impact on four different dimensions which co-exist at deferent levels at all times. Also, working on one dimension, has impact on the other dimensions. This explains why even high-achievers often do not necessarily feel happy about themselves most of the times.


 More than the paychecks and designations, it is what each individual employee is feeling in each of the four dimensions within the confines of the organization that decide their level of emotional engagement with the job.


Using the above framework, I could reflect on my own decision to stay on with one employer for over 13 years and also why I decided to move on when the score on two dimensions moved backward. This framework helped me to understand that choosing to stay with an organization goes much beyond the conventional employee satisfaction metrics that HR departments often mindlessly administer.


The framework also explained to me why it is often said that employees join organizations but leave the boss. As you can see that in this model, the role of the boss (immediate supervisor) is crucial in determining your condition in  three of the four dimensions mentioned in this framework.  



I rate the last dimension as the most important. If one is moving forward on the purpose dimension, trade-offs in the other three dimensions are easier to accept. One can still get a sense of fulfillment. Organizations which lend an over-arching, inclusive sense of purpose to their employees, are often able to attract and retain  talents without offering much on other dimensions


Given the complex interplay of each of these dimensions, it is clear that one cannot have it all. Also, trying harder is not going to help. The challenge is to identify one’s own comfort zone on each of these dimensions at a given point of time in life and then build or find an organization and career that can help us gravitate to your point of natural equilibrium.


– G. Mohan




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