End 87 Percent of Problems at Work in 72 Hours

The following guest post is from Neal Frankle of Wealth Pilgrim. Wealth Pilgrim is on my short list of daily reads. After reading the post, head over to Neal’s site and sign up to receive his posts.

If you encounter personal conflicts at work – I think I may have stumbled upon a major contributing factor and how to solve most (or at least some) of these challenges.

Ready for the root cause of most of your work issues?  Here it is:

You (or the people you work with) forget why you go to work.

This may sound overly simplistic but let me share a story that will illustrate how powerful this really can be.

Tim, an old friend of mine has a long history of short stints at work. That frustrates me. He is a super-qualified, high-profile media guy.  He’s personable, intelligent and……can’t keep a job.

He’s been married for 2 years.  His wife Patti is working her tail off trying to keep them afloat and she’s just about had enough. She sees how qualified Tim is but thinks he gets himself fired (on purpose or subconsciously) because he’s lazy.  She doesn’t want another 40 years of this kind of life.  She’s threatened to leave if Tim doesn’t get it together.  If that wasn’t enough pressure, the couple is just about to lose their home to foreclosure.

You can imagine that Tim was really relieved two weeks ago when he got hired at one of the most prestigious media companies in the world.

I asked him how it was going when we spoke a few days ago. His answer knocked me out of my chair.

He told me that his boss made a slight “remark” and it really made Tim angry.  He was already complaining about his new boss and was “re-thinking” his decision to take the job.

Tim may have had a justifiable gripe but I didn’t think it mattered. I just couldn’t believe he was complaining.  Here he had an opportunity to work again – and the alternative was foreclosure and divorce.

It occurred to me that Tim was either completely insane or he was going to work for the wrong reasons.

I asked him to tell me why he goes work and this is what he came up with:

a.   To support his family.

b.   To be of service to the company he works for.

c.   To contribute to the world.

Intellectually…very nice.  But to me, his answer wasn’t complete.

I asked him if there were other reasons. He couldn’t come up with any so I suggested he also goes to work to be:

a.   Important

b.   Right

c.   Liked

d.   Looked up to

e.   Taken care of

f.    Powerful and strong

I gave him examples of how he sought out those payoffs time and time again.

For example, I asked why he reacted so strongly to the remark his boss made.

I suggested that it was because we wasn’t getting what he wanted – which was to be important, strong, looked up to etc..

If all he wanted to do was to take care of his family and contribute to his new firm and the world, he would have let that remark made by the employer roll off his back…right?

Tim takes what other people do and say personally – especially at his job.  As a result, work… doesn’t work.  That’s why he usually finds himself unemployed shortly after he lands a job.

I suggested that he has a real opportunity to turn this situation around once and for all.  If you struggle with the people at work, this exercise can help you too:

1.   Write down why you think you go to work.

Like Tim, this list probably includes paying your bills, taking care of your family, doing a good job for your employer, advancement etc.

2.   Write down all the social and psychological payoffs that you don’t want to admit to.

This is show time.  You have to be honest.  Part of the reason you go to work is because you have social and personal needs that have nothing to do with money.  Nothing wrong with that.

You probably want to enjoy yourself.  Why not?  You spend more of your waking time at work than any other place….right?  You want to be liked and respected…..who doesn’t?

In moderation, these are all just human needs and they won’t get you into trouble.  The real rough water starts when you want to be “important”.

This is something you may not want to admit to – I certainly don’t.  But if you find yourself at odds with others, it may be something you need to look at.

This is all about ego.  It has nothing to do with why you are really go to work.  If you allow your ego to call the shots at work – always looking for a way to be revered by your co-workers or employer, you’ll alienate everyone around you.  Just don’t be surprised when you don’t have a job.

Even if you are the smart one, it doesn’t matter.

If you go looking for worshipers at work, you’re going to tick people off.

You may not realize what you are doing but other people do.  Need proof?

When the guy in the next office is positioning….you see what he’s up to…right?

Well…guess what……he knows it when you are doing the same thing.

3.   Keep this list on your desk at all times.

You’re only human.  You aren’t perfect.  You have character flaws; everyone does.  Review this list often and it will help you remain aware and “awake”.

Don’t beat yourself up – but it’s time to put a leash on your ego.

When you catch yourself trying to flex your muscles for all the wrong reasons, call it out.  Laugh at yourself and tell your co-workers that your ego must have gotten the better of you – then get back on track.   Don’t have a 3-day seminar on the subject but don’t try to cover it up either.  If you make a mistake, be honest about it and then move on.  Believe me, the people you work with will be amazed and appreciate your honesty.

4.   Don’t expect the world to be perfect.

Believe it or not, not everyone is going to read this post.  Your boss might be a huge ego freak and you can’t change it.

Realize that it’s not about you.  If she’s looking for ego strokes and by so doing, puts you down, she probably does that to other people too.  Don’t take it personally.  I know that’s easy to say and hard to do.

If it gets to be too much, you’ll need to look for a different boss somehow.  I’ll leave that part to you.  Just don’t allow someone else to push your buttons if you can.

What make me such an expert on this subject?

I spent years trying to make sure everyone know how smart I was.  When I didn’t get what I wanted, I went ballistic.  I had to do a lot of work on myself in order to stop doing that.  I’m not perfect…but I do it considerably less now.

That old behavior cost me so much time, life and love. It almost cost me everything.

That’s why this is such a hot button for me.

I still blow it from time to time.  When I do, I try to call it out and move on.  When people at work try to prove how important they are, I just try to remember that I have the same character flaw and it helps me stay calm.

Pardon me.  After all the years I spent making this mistake, I just think it’s really dumb to struggle when you don’t have to. If you are clear about why you go to work and get back on track when you forget……..most of your work challenges will disappear.

How about you.  What do you think is the main cause of trouble at work? How does it impact you?  What have you done about it?


  1. The title is pretty darn funny.

    The post talks about something real and important.

    I am indeed going to check out the Wealth Pilgrim blog.

    The story about the guy who cannot hold a job reveals another aspect of what makes those amazing humans tick. On the surface it just seems like stupid behavior. But from inside that fellow’s head whatever it is that drives him to do such dumb stuff is also what drove him to develop the skills that help him land all those great jobs in the first place. In his mind, giving that thing up is dangerous (he’s wrong, but that’s how he sees it today).


  2. Very valid points, i don’t believe it is always the case with the employee / employer (have you ever been run off a job, by mobbing?) . BUT still very valid points for adults to think about, we are all human and imperfect and we need to realize the role we play in our demise also.

  3. I go to work for the free company paid health insurance – which I want to keep until I am old enough for medicare…..

    I chose to do this rather than retire now and pay for health insurance for 10 years….

    So I just remember – I’m there because I chose this option…. It’s not about me nor my ego – it’s just about health insurance. Let someone else be important and just give me my paperwork to do and not have to think too much about it, and I’m good with it all! No ego involved. Just a means to an end, and if I change my mind, then I’ll go. For now, it serves it’s purpose.

    And while someone is giving me this free gift of health insurance, well then, I’d best appreciate it and give fair value for the money the boss pays along with the insurance 🙂 The boss signs my paycheck – so he can call the shots – NO problem at all 🙂

  4. The perfect book to read if you are trying to control your ego: “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle. Talk about an eye opener if you are ready for it.

  5. Great post and a very real topic.I am a nurse and I am very use to someone calling the shots,worked for a hospital for 25yrs to provide for my family.I had ego then but kept it in check to keep my career on track and the moolah coming in.Some time after age 40 I realized what I have control over and what I don’t which made the daily grind much easier.I also became crystal clear on my priorities-MY Family! so I took a job with an health insurance company.Not the most rivetting but it is monday thru friday no wkends no holidays,great pay and benefits.I brought no ego here but it is a job not a career.Wish I had learned this lesson 25 yrs ago but better late than never so really good insite and advice in the post.Any always first look at ourselves and our behavior.

  6. Holy cow!! Tim is just like my brother in law! Retail jobs (my father in law calls them 18 year old jobs) his whole adult life. He’s now well into his 30’s. The majority of the jobs he has had since I have known him have ended with him walking out, usually because his manager is “an idiot”, said something insensiive, doesn’t realize my brother in law knows everything and should really be in charge and/or feels threatened by him. Unfortunately, he storms out with no other job on the horizon. Months back, I finally had to have a heart to heart with my wife and tell her I refuse to send him any money for rent, food, heat when he does this. It’s time to grow up.

    This is a fantastic article. I need to figure out a way to get it to him. Thanks.

  7. Fantastic post! The funny thing about wanting to be important is that outside the tiny microcosm of your particular workplace, no one knows or cares how “important” you are. All that jockeying seems so pointless to me.

  8. Thanks for this post. I love the idea of making a full list of the original reasons you took a job. I’m going to share this tip with our readers.


  9. I appreciated your article. I have been recently displaced and thought I had no ego at all. I have been bullied in the past and see that I set myself up to be the victim. I feel an intense need to be liked and respected, which interferes with my ability to control my emotions with insensitive clods, who are in every workplace. I feel I have grown more sensitive with every discharge and need not to take anything they say as personal and recognize that their behavior is not mine. I need to remember that the reason I am employed is first, that I bring value to the workplace, and also place primary focus on the employer’s business needs. I have been mobbed by coworkers, and driven out of jobs in the past and I still have difficulty managing conflict, but will read the book mentioned above. “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle.

  10. Let’s take this a bit further.

    If I go to work to do the job I was hired for, then I want to be able to do that job.

    Let’s say that part of my job is ensuring the accuracy of what we produce (let’s say content)so that we can build the company’s credibility and reinforce it’s brand in the marketplace (the stated department mission).

    Now, what if I encounter individuals who are not adhering to that stated goal and who are, also, jeopardizing it by producing work that is factually inaccurate, for example. Posting their work would show the company to be either a liar or just plain stupid about a topic if it were posted. But supposing you work for a company where no one is allowed to question anyone about anything (even if under their supervision)? Where the company says one thing but does another?

    Now you speak up and say: Excuse me. This article contains factually incorrect information. We should fix it and then post it.

    But nobody wants to do that. For various reasons.

    You continue to speak up until you realize that 1/Nobody cares about what’s posted. 2/You are viewed as a problem when you are trying to help and 3/ nobody wants the responsibility for

    This isn’t about being “right” or about ego or being acknowledged. It’s about fulfilling the stated company mission and doing the job you were hired to do.

    There are plenty of reasons solid, hard-working people don’t last in jobs (willingly or otherwise).

    When I think about work, I think about: How much responsibility does this company take for the product or service they provide? How much do they care about their customers (internal and external)?

    Cause when I come to work, I want to WORK. I want to do the actual job. That’s all I care about. But you know what, most people are not at work to do the work.

    They are, as you’ve said, there for other reasons.

    FYI: For those of you who only work for a paycheck or the benefits, if you’re NOT doing the work to full capacity, YOU are a real bottleneck in most offices. Not the people who ask questions, who try to improve things and to get people to do things. Most of you, if not all, will never speak up, will never stand up and just let stuff go buy.

    YOU are the people in hospitals who allow others to do things that are unsafe, and put others at risk, for example. Who are in positions where you know others are not doing their jobs correctly and you do nothing. Cause you don’t want to jeopardize your job.

    Yea. You need to think about why you’re at work. And if it’s anything other than doing the job, you don’t really belong there.

  11. “dumb to struggle when you don’t have to” – way to hit the nail on the head, Neal. Thanks for writing this. You’ve got lots of great insights. I can use this post for my own situation, too.

  12. “If I go to work to do the job I was hired for, then I want to be able to do that job. ”

    I agree with this. Although I have known people that would get up and quit because of a conflict too far. I have never done that. I have left over various issues, but I shut up and work on getting a job elsewhere.

    But, I also agree that I am hired to do a job. And impediments to that are problematic. I have met some ego types. But, thinking that doing the right thing is ego driven is nonsense. My man responsibility is my family this is true. However, if simply go and punch the clock, then…

    1. I am doing my employer a disservice.
    2. I am doing a disservice to my family, because my work is subpar poss. leading to passing financial and career gains, and even poss. loss of my job at some point.
    3. I do a disservice to myself by knowing the work I do is subpar let alone excellent.

    I think the article misses the mark on the issue. One the creative types are their work. It uniquely identifies their mark. It also is their resume. So excellence is important.

    I agree that one should not bounce around and has to take some crap. And should never walk w/o another job. You are better off getting fired financially than just quit.

    Basically, one has to balance the political environment, against ones financial needs. Basically I do the best I can, ignore what I can, deal with what can’t, and if it still isn’t working then I start looking elsewhere.

    I always remember the quote from Roseanne “I am an excellent judge of people, that’s why I don’t like none of them.”