When Things Get Rough at Work

ImageWhen the going gets tough, the tough get going.

I’ve always liked that saying, more so to toss in the face of others when the going gets tough for them.  Don’t do it to me when I’m going through a tough time because I will make you sorry you said something so trite to me in the face of my very real challenging situation. You are risking Drama Girl if you go there. Instead, say “Oh, Linda. Your tough times are tougher than anyone’s. Trite sayings will never do. Here, let me give you a foot-rub and some Skittles™ and try to help you feel better.”

That sort of thing always works here.

Back to that saying…

Over the years it has changed. It still means the thing it was originally intended to mean: sometimes when things get tough, the resilient and dedicated among us roll up our sleeves and re-double our efforts and prove we are tougher than the situation.  We get in gear, we get going.  We do this when the result matters to us, when it matters to people we love, when it matters to someone.

In every natural disaster, the tough get going. When a little girl falls down a well or miners get trapped, the tough get going. When a loved one is fighting cancer, we get going.  We face it. We do what we can. We bring our A-game. We roll up our sleeves. We bake casseroles. We find time to actively help. We learn how to do new, hard things we’ve never done before.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

High-five to our tenacity, to our perseverance, our ingenuity, our willingness.

High five.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about that phrase,though. There is a second interpretation. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. They go. Buh-bye. See ya.

They leave.

The difference between the two groups is this: group one feels a sense of connection, loyalty, purpose, and passion toward the cause that requires them to ‘get tough’ – toward the person or situation or entity. Group two does not.

This is an important differentiation for business management who wish to lead their companies through tough times to better days. Companies need employees, but not just any employees. They need people who feel connected to the company, who feel passion and purpose. They need people who, when the going gets tough, are willing to be the kind that get going to help propel the ship past the storm and to calmer waters.

If employees don’t have that purpose or passion, that feeling of mutuality regarding care and concern, then people will get going by leaving. Why would they stay? For whom?  Their loyalty must be garnered, it cannot be mandated. It’s valuable and even necessary, but it must be earned.

Tough times call for tough decision-making and that isn’t fun nor is it easy. Employees may not like some of the decisions. They may not like flying in the back of the plane more often, free soda going away, or resource cuts. They may not like these kinds of decisions and they may groan and whinge, but eventually they will understand and accept.

But if decisions are taken that they don’t understand, that harm their own well-being at its core, that seem to waste their passion, drain them of their purpose, are fundamentally unfair, they won’t be able to get behind them. They will get going in a way that doesn’t serve the company.

The ones who are the most marketable, who have the most talent, who are most likely to bring innovation and ingenuity, will be the first to leave, because they can.

If the prize is at the top of a steep mountain, the first thing you do is make sure your climbers have everything they need to successfully reach it. You equip them properly. You let them know you care about their success, that you’re behind them and supporting them all the way. You help set the course, give them base-camp support. If you do that, they’ll get going and they will reach the top.

And if you don’t?

Well, they’re tough. They’ll survive.  They won’t climb this mountain but they’ll go find another one to climb to claim a different prize for another sponsor.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. One way or another, they get going. The difference is how they feel about the mission-leaders, based on how the mission-leaders feel about them.

Are you a mission-leader? What do your decisions say to your mountain-climbers about how you value them?

One thought on “When Things Get Rough at Work

  1. I like this – and from time to time wonder which camp I’m in. I’ve been in both over the years in different situations. The camp that toughens itself and then goes further up that mountain, and the ones that break camp and head to the village for a beer. 🙂

    It’s situational – and where I am right now – I’m not sure which camp I’m in.

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