I can’t think of any of my friends who don’t take pride in their commitment to professionalism. The majority of them work 10-12 hours a day and more than five days a week – they continue their thinking and sometimes writing over the weekends. But the signs of wear and tear are showing, and when those who work for government agencies are on salary freeze for the next few years, how can anyone blame them for re-adjusting their commitment? We are stuck in deficit thinking, and I don’t mean just the national deficit, but the more far-reaching all-around negativity which preys upon our spirits and stresses our abilities to build or create, and for that matter, even inhibits our ability to deal thoughtfully with the financial deficit. “Deficiency thinking” and its amorphous aspects, morale, trust, energy, etc., wrecks havoc in our collective system in both short and long terms.
My friends’ re-adjusting their commitment isn’t in cutting corners, shirking responsibilities, or doing just good-enough jobs. They are still committed to putting in more than 100% when they are “on,” but they are trying to cut back the “on” mode. Some of them are taking a little time off here and there. (Many have accumulated quite a bit of vacation time, and have previously lost weeks of vacation because they were “on” too much to take vacation.) A few of them push back demands from the top; yet a few more are contemplating taking early retirement, and probably find some less demanding part-time jobs. Or, they will retire as soon as they are eligible.
I have no doubt that there are still a few organizations where people are happy at work, Google comes to mind. But the number of these places seems to be shrinking around us. We often hear the advice that “you are not irreplaceable.” Or, “within a year after you are gone, the place won’t remember you or what you did.” True, but for the ones who take pride in their professionalism and are internally motivated for their work, it’s about going beyond the expectations from others. I would hazard to make this assertion: The mediocre ones who would just clock in and meet expectations or slightly above, when they leave, you won’t notice much difference. But when the top tier of really talented and committed members feel cheated or unappreciated, and start pulling back, the loss will impact all of us. Remember, by definition, half of the workforce is below average.
I heard on a radio program that in Denmark, people can request part-time or half-time for their jobs, and the organizations have to honor the request unless the organizations can prove that the employees’s reduced hours would impact productivity and profit. Now, I think this is rather drastic since a meaningful assessment isn’t cheap to undertake and the results would be suspect, at best. However, the concept is rather attractive because when it’s in the culture – 40% of the workforce take such options in Denmark – it’s not considered unprofessional to do so. In addition, they don’t mind paying taxes for better health care and other social services. Germany is trending in that direction as well. And you know what? The productivity in these countries hasn’t suffered.
I don’t have systemic data to document this statement, but many organizations seem to be hell-bent on creating work for the sake of busy work, and this sense is especially acute to people working long hours. What do I mean by busy work? Suppose one has to have more than six signatures for requesting travel, 8 more upon return to process the reimbursement, reams of documents to simply make a purchase request, and a few more for quality control requirements … before actually doing the work. If someone has to spend more than about 30% of office time doing things that only meet preliminary requirements for the actual work, that’s too much. And as people, from bottom to top, feel stressed out, patience runs thin, and nurture would be the first casualty. While half of the workforce will always be mediocre, the overall performance distribution is likely to shift to less productivity, less stellar performance, less work satisfaction, just about less of everything.
Any solutions? At least any one of all that I have discussed so far would help, but the keys always lie in the initial desire and the how. And if I could come up with any brilliant synthesis, that’d be worthy of a Nobel.
Charles Peters writes in the latest Washington Monthly: “ When corporations build a factory, it is considered a positive, the creation of a capital assets. But when government builds a road or a school, it’s an expense. It’s simply spending money, treated the same as the most frivolous waste. Why can’t we have a system of accounting that gives government credit for the creation of genuine assets like bridges and schools?” It’s really about different ways of thinking. And that’s the hardest battle. Management generally does claim to desire better operations and improved productivity (and increased profit for for-profit organizations), and people who are managed just want to create meaning for their work. But with the increasing stress and meaningless busy work, no one seems to have time to have conversations to make genuine improvement at work.
Sorry, yet another depressing entry. But by keeping writing, I keep my energy going, and maybe along the way, I may bump into some brilliant aha’s. If you have some positive stories, please share. Till next time,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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