Voting Ourselves Off the Corporate Island

Who hasn't fantasized about walking in to work one day and saying "I quit, see you later"? Usually that dream comes hand in hand with winning the lottery. We spend countless hours thinking about what we would do if we won all that money and the freedom it gives us. We create scenarios of the best way to resign, vacillating between doing it graciously and respectfully or not caring how many bridges we burn.

Suddenly the alarm next to your bed rudely interrupts your dream and it's time to let reality sink in. You aren't going to win the lottery and most people can't afford to just walk away. But, that really isn't stopping a lot of people from doing just that as a large number of people are saying, both with their voices and their feet, that being stuck in a miserable job just isn't worth the pain.

I cast my vote in the fall of 2011 when I had what I now refer to as my face-in-the-mirror moment. I had been a very successful corporate human resources executive, rising to the role of Executive Vice President and doing the kind of work I loved, or so I thought. One day while getting ready to go to work, I looked in the mirror to put on my make up. This day, for whatever reason, I stopped and took a really long look at myself and screamed back at my reflection "when are you going to admit that you are completely dead inside and have lost the passion for this work"?

That was a life changing moment as reality sunk in that I had just diagnosed my own disengagement and that in fact, I had been feeling this way for quite some time. It wasn't just an I'm-sick-of-Monday thing, it was a you need to change your life thing. When one admits that they are disengaged, there are usually three things that can happen:

  • You admit it, but know that unfortunately you aren't in a place right now to be able to do anything about it so you acknowledge the feeling, accept it for what it is and think about what you can do going forward to eventually get out of this mess.

  • You talk to your boss or HR or someone else who can help you to do some tweaking to your current situation to create that spark of reengagement. Sometimes it can be something small that has a big positive impact.
  • You realize that you really do need to make a change and start thinking about how you can walk toward something better, not run away from something bad. It is about being thoughtful, plan-full and strategic as you think about what would make you happier, engaged and passionate again.
  • I chose option three and set about implementing my plan. It took 10 months from the time I had that honest conversation with myself in the mirror, but that's okay. It's about the journey to the ultimate destination, not how long it took to get there.

    Here are the steps I took that might work for you as well:

    • Take out a blank piece of paper and make two columns headed 'what I'm passionate about' and 'what are my deal breakers'.

  • In the first column think about the things that you like to do, what gets you excited to get up in the morning and what you are good at. I decided I wanted to do something more creative and be able to write and speak about my passion for employee engagement.
  • In the second column it's all about the things that you don't want. In my case, top of that list was no longer having a boss. I'd had too many bad ones to last a lifetime. I also wanted to have more say over the work I would do as well as control over when and where that happened.
  • Talk to as many people as you can who are doing what you think you want to do to get a dose of reality.

  • Understand and accept that it will be harder than you think initially but know that happiness and satisfaction waits down the road.
  • Have resources set aside, both financial and emotional, to get you through the journey.
  • By now I'm sure you've probably heard the dismal statistics about the epidemic of disengagement around the world today. On a global basis, 87 percent or workers identify themselves as disengaged. In the US it's a slightly better 68.5 percent. It's stunning that the cost of lost productivity due to this issue is approaching $550 Billion per year. Think about the millions of people these numbers represent. Is it any wonder that so many of us are choosing to vote ourselves off the corporate island?

    Companies today must wake up to what's happening before the talent drain causes irreparable harm. They need to focus on the basics of creating an engaging work environment where people can buy in, go all in and remain within while contributing to the mission and vision of the company. The companies that understand this and actually walk the talk will find themselves with a long line of people voting themselves onto the island.

    Ruth K. Ross is a former senior human resources executive with over 30 years of experience at some of the world's most admired companies. She is the author of Coming Alive: The Journey To Reengage Your Life And Career and gets to live the dream everyday by writing and speaking about her passion for engagement. Connect with Ruth on her website or at