Interesting work will be intentional work.
We often hear this interesting/intentional work of Ho‘ohana described this way: Good work will be engaging. Good work will be important and count for something, and it will be fulfilling.
I doubt anyone would argue, yet this is what was reported by The Atlantic as an all-too-common workplace story:
Two years ago a civil servant in the German town of Menden wrote a farewell message to his colleagues on the day of his retirement stating that he had not done anything for 14 years. “Since 1998,” he wrote, “I was present but not really there. So I’m going to be well prepared for retirement—Adieu.” The e-mail was leaked to Germany’s Westfalen-Post and quickly became world news. The public work ethic had been wounded and in the days that followed the mayor of Menden lamented the incident, saying he “felt a good dose of rage.”
The municipality of Menden sent out a press release regretting that the employee never informed his superiors of his inactivity. In a lesser-known interview with the German newspaper Bild a month later, the former employee responded that his e-mail had been misconstrued. He had not been avoiding work for 14 years; as his department grew, his assignments were simply handed over to others. “There never was any frustration on my part, and I would have written the e-mail even today. I have always offered my services, but it’s not my problem if they don’t want them,” he said.
— The Art of Not Working at Work
The article goes on to talk about cyberloafing and modern-day slacking. It asked these questions: “Does having a job necessarily entail work? If not, how and why does a job lose its substance? And what can be done to make employees less lazy—or is that even the right question to ask in a system that’s set up in the way that ours is?”
You can probably guess my quickest, Managing with Aloha answer to all 3 questions:
Good management matters.
Not a constant look-over-all-shoulders management, but thoughtfully deliberate management as a Ho‘ohana helper, supporter and steady source of encouragement. To count solely on employee initiative, hoping it will be an unending wellspring of self-motivation, and then lament a stoppage at someone’s annual performance review, doesn’t cut it.
Neither does blind trust in work ethic, or a foolish reliance on peer pressure. Managers must recharge workplace energies, and renew any tired, worn out “same ol’ same ol’ thang” conditions with fresh thinking.
Here was another story the article shared:
Consider the last novel by David Foster Wallace, The Pale King, in which an IRS worker dies by his desk and remains there for days without anyone noticing that he is dead. This might be read as a brilliant satire of how work drains liveliness such that no one notices whether you are dead or alive. However, in the strict sense of the word, this was not fiction. In 2004, a tax-office official in Finland died in exactly the same way while checking tax returns. Although there were about 100 other workers on the same floor and some 30 employees in the auditing department where he worked, it took them two days to notice that he was dead. None of them seemed to feel the loss of his labors; he was only found when a friend stopped by to have lunch with him.
How could no one notice?
Yikes. I cannot imagine such a thing happening where there is a healthy workplace culture.
What is culture?
Great managers know that CULTURE is simply a group of people who share common values, and operate within those values.
Culture is learned. Culture represents a series of agreements based on value alignment, and results from honoring those agreements.
“Cyberloafing and modern-day slacking” are symptoms, not cause.
This was the article takeaway that resonated with me:
“There’s a widely held belief that more work always exists for those who want it. But is that true? Everywhere we look, technology is replacing human labor.”
People are not carving time for slacking or cyberloafing out of productive work with the result that expected work is not getting done: They cruise, stay off a manager’s radar, and surf the web to fill a void, knowing they have to keep up the appearance of adding value when expectations are too low.
Our workforce is not lazy by default. The greater likelihood is that they’re bored and unchallenged.
And they’ve gotten awfully good at pretending they’re not.
“If I had to describe my 16 years of corporate work with one phrase, it would be ‘pretending to add value.’ … The key to career advancement is appearing valuable despite all hard evidence to the contrary. … If you add any actual value to your company today, your career is probably not moving in the right direction. Real work is for people at the bottom who plan to stay there.”
— Dilbert creator Scott Adams gives his impressions of 16 years of employment at Crocker National Bank and Pacific Bell.
In City Slackers, Steve McKevitt, a disillusioned “business and communications expert,” gloomily declares: “In a society where presentation is everything, it’s no longer about what you do, it’s about how you look like you’re doing it.”
Both quotes bring back to mind another I saw recently on fulfillment, giving us a simple yet practical look on what the statement “Good work will be fulfilling.” eventually looks like and sounds like:
What is fulfillment made of? Mostly relief.
— Emily Fox Gordon for the New York Times
If you are an Alaka‘i Manager, please assess the health of your own workplace culture, and do so honestly. Resist the pull of complacency, and do not hesitate to address what you find. Supervise.
Don’t fear micromanagement: Help more. Get more involved in the work being done, so you can diagnose any boredom and pretending which may exist.
Chances are that your employees want you to be more involved than you think they do. I titled this post “Dear Manager, Don’t let me get bored.” just in case they want to print it, and leave it on your desk.
Here is some complementary reading in MWA’s Aloha Archives:
- Managing Basics: Study Their Work
- People Who Do Good Work
- Hana ‘eleau: Working in the Dark
- Beauty in the Work: “Things Occur to You.”
- 1-Catch the Good, 2-Tell Them!
Much more can be found taking the tags in the footer if any of those value-verbing themes resonated with you.