When I was a shop floor employee there was a fairly clear divide: Us (hourly employees) and them (management.)

So I struggled when I first became a supervisor. Not because I didn't know how to do the job, but because there was an emotional downside to the role I didn't anticipate.

To people on the floor I was no longer one of them -- and since I hadn't paid my leadership dues, the other supervisors didn't see me as one of them.

That left me feeling adrift. I had lost my identity as "one of the guys," but hadn't found a sense of belonging among my new colleagues.

And there was really no one I could talk to about how I felt; when I tried, a machine operator friend cut me off and said, "Oh, quit whining and go cash your bigger paycheck." And I couldn't talk to my new peers, either. Doing so in a fairly cutthroat environment would signal insecurity and weakness.

That's the kind of problem the new Wondery podcast Safe for Work hopes to solve. Hosted by Liz Dolan, the former head of marketing for Nike, Nat Geo, and the Oprah Winfrey Network, and executive recruiter and comedian Matt Ritter, Safe for Work has thoughtful, in-depth conversations about subjects we don't often get to talk about. 

As I learned when I talked with Liz, their goal is to help people enjoy a more rewarding work life (and hopefully personal life, too.)

Why this podcast, and why now?

We've had the podcast Satellite Sisters, a women's talk show that I do in addition to my corporate career, for over a decade. I love podcasting because it allows people to have real conversations about real life.

Podcasts also lend themselves well to workplace advice. Most of us spend more of our days with people we work with than our families, and when we have workplace issues, they tend to be EQ rather than IQ issues: how to get along with people, how to communicate better, how to understand what others want, how to influence them in a positive way... yet it's often hard to turn to your colleagues for advice. And our families often don't understand the issues well enough to be able to help. They're not there, so they can't get it.

That's why there's a real need for people who can be a sounding board and is why we call the podcast Safe for Work. It's a play on "not safe for work," but more than that it's a place where you can have a safe conversation about things that are difficult for you about your work.

That's a very different approach form the average business podcast.

We're really trying to talk about people-related challenges in the workplace. We're not going to tell you how to run your business.

As I joke in the first episode, we're not here to tell you how to crush it on the job. There are plenty of podcasts about crushing things. (Laughs.) 

That's not where we're coming from. We want to help people feel happier and more fulfilled in the work they do.

You're taking calls from listeners, but you also have some well-known guests.

Our first episode features Rainn Wilson, probably best known from playing Dwight on The Office. He's an incredibly interesting guy. He talks about what he wants to get out of life, what's important to him as an artist and as a businessperson, how his company, Soul Pancake, ties in with his personal faith... he's extremely thoughtful about satisfaction and fulfillment and how work helps him be who he wants to be in the world.

And he has some extremely smart perspectives on how people can drive each other crazy.

Another one of your guests wrote a book I really like: Write, Open, Act.

Lee Weinstein who runs his own PR agency but he also created a workbook -- and a business -- around putting together an intentional life plan. It's a great process but also a little terrifying, because it means asking yourself the hard questions about what you really want out of life. (Laughs.)

Sometimes people expect their jobs to give them everything they want in life. They put too much pressure on their job to make them happy and fulfilled... but usually your job will only do some things for you, and what's missing in your life are the things that need to happen outside the workplace.

That might be a side hustle, for example. But how do you balance your primary career and your side hustle in a way that is financially and emotionally satisfying? That's not easy.

That makes it something we should talk about.

My example of a conversation you don't often get to have is when you become a first-time supervisor.

The first time you become a boss is a definite turning point in your work life. You go from being one of the gang and not really having to make some of the hard decisions... and now you're responsible for whether the people who were you friends get raises, get promoted... that's a huge transition.

You don't have to be the big, big boss to feel lonely about not being on the team anymore. It's a hard emotional transition for people to make.

And it's even harder because you think you're supposed to be happy. After all, you got promoted! Yet, especially at first, it's not emotionally satisfying. Hopefully we can talk you off that ledge. (Laughs.)

The same thing can happen when a top salesperson becomes a sales manager.

Oddly enough that conversation took place in one of our first episodes. A gentleman called who had been in sales and the company talked him into taking a sales management job. He didn't want to do it... but took the job.

And he wasn't finding it satisfying --  at all.

He liked the independence of being a salesperson. He liked being in control of his time. And he replied that other salespeople were now making more money than he was.

That's a little like an NBA coach that looks down the bench and realizes he's staring at 6 or 7 Fortune 500 companies. The coach will never make as much as the superstar players.

Exactly. Often with sales teams the manager makes less than the people he or she manages.

Ultimately the problem for this gentleman was that he was less satisfied and making less money. So he called to ask for advice about how he could make more money. 

I said, "I don't think more money is really your issue. Is management what you want to do for the rest of your life? I think you want to be back in sales."

That's a safe conversation on our show, but a hard conversation to have in the workplace. Talk to your boss and it's like you're complaining. Talk to your old peers and you're also complaining. Yet the issue is real and has nothing to do with whining and everything to do with whether you're happy and fulfilled in your work life.

From a strictly procedural point of view, you're a podcast, not a radio show -- so how do you handle callers?

We ask questions on social media, people write in, our producers calls to see if the topic is a good one... while there are plenty of good questions, for the show the issue needs to be relatable.  

Then we schedule the calls, go in the studio, and talk. It's basically live to tape; we have unscripted conversations. The questions make up their own segment.

As for guests, they are featured in their own segment. Like with Rainn: We wanted to talk to him about his philosophy on art and life.

Our goal is to take you beyond the easy answers and go much deeper into ways you can enjoy a more rewarding work life.

Published on: Mar 19, 2018
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