Bad jobs are hostile to our personal lives and don’t produce good work
If you follow me regularly, you’ll know I’ve just published a book about work and how to make it better called good.simple.open. Though I write regular blog posts about work, I decided to focus this week on Bad Jobs and how we can improve them. Much of good.simple.open deals with this issue but it’s one that has a bottomless reservoir of stories and lessons. Each day this week, I’ll be posting something about Bad Jobs here on the blog and using the hashtag #BadJobsWeek on Twitter to discuss them. Follow me on Twitter @heytodda.
This whole idea began with an IM conversation with a friend last week. Here’s what he sent me (edited by me to lose the chatty terms that were confusing):
I don’t know if you cover it but there’s this thing that’s happening that I’ve noticed where this ethic of work comes before and above all else. The more access we have to each other via phones and mobile causing it. Like if a boss emails at 9pm and of the group 2 respond then the other 4 feel obligated. Now the boss knows if he emails at 9pm, people will respond no matter what and there’s this pressure to put your work ethic before anything else.
I told my friend this was exactly the situation I experienced at my last job. At the job prior to that, I was told that to be eligible for a raise I needed to end my “work life / personal life separation” and start checking my email at nights and on weekends. (I did but no raise appeared.)
Additionally, my friend said that he took no pride in his work:
I have a terrible attitude here. I don’t give a shit really. I just do what keeps me out of harm’s way but I stopped taking lots of pride in my work because the pace is too furious. It’s just not fun. It’s like asking you to create 30 songs by tomorrow. You could do it but are they going to be good? Are you going to have pride in them? Are you going to enjoy the process? Fuck no.
It’s been this way for so long that most American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.
It’s that “dangerously incompetent management” that jumps out at me. We’ve accepted the lie that we have to work more hours to be more productive but the truth is that any study about productivity shows that we have a limited capacity for good, productive work. Whether it is physical or intellectual labor, working more than 8 hours produces no more.
My friend and I discussed the chapters I wrote called “Send your employees home at 5” and “When you have too many to-dos for an employee, you need to hire another employee.” His comment was:
If you can’t get the work done by 5 and the working is working hard, then you need to hire more people or you need to say no. I am a very good employee. I work very hard. I am a good fit here but I will admit I would take another job right now because I don’t like the way I am made to stress out all the time. It’s not healthy and it’s not fun. It’s fucking exhausting.
We wondered what the reasoning was behind pushing employees so much to work longer hours, answer emails, texts, and calls after work hours. My friend’s judgement was swift:
Volume. Quantity. Hours worked. That’s it. There’s no value in doing one thing amazingly well. There’s value in “finishing” 30 projects. That’s what people are looking for.
And that’s where it ties into the “dangerously incompetent management.” Businesses aren’t being built to do good work. They’re interested in churning work out. So managers value hours worked and quantity over quality. They teach this value to their customers by delivering things too quickly and too cheaply so that customers don’t expect good products. They expect to need maintenance. Customers begin to think everything is disposable. So the businesses keep cranking until they burn out their employees. The cycle continues and businesses burn through all their resources because they’ve never created a solid process.
Maybe that’s fine if everyone wants to buy shit, wants to make shit, and wants to burn out. But I suspect I’m not alone in my opposition to all that shit. So the question is glaring at all of us doing the work: how do we fix it? In good.simple.open, I direct chapters at management to “listen to the canaries” who are alerting them to the lack of oxygen in the company. But I know as well as anyone that management usually is so oxygen-deprived that they think the canaries are the problem and you discover that you’re the thing that has to change.
In those cases, I think tools like Glassdoor are going to help us make changes. We have to talk about what’s bad in a job publicly so that we can warn others and so that we can tell the company. Too often, if we only raise our concerns internally, they don’t make it to the person who can actually make decisions. HR is more concerned with following employment policies. Your manager is more concerned with keeping his job.
The other thing we have to do is leave those jobs. We have to opt out of the shit work so we can find the good work. Refusing to put up with bad practices does not make you weak. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed somehow. Those jobs with bad practices are the ones who’ve failed. Choosing to leave them is a powerful and positive change. If enough of us do it, we might spark a widespread cultural change.