Only Four More Days To The Weekend

Only four more days to the weekend…..


What sort of relationship do you have with your work? Ever thought about that? For many or maybe most people according to recent studies, the relationship appears to be a resentful one. ‘It’s where I go when I’m not doing what I want to do; it’s what I have to do until I win the lottery or I can take my pension.’  The weekly charade of checking the numbers and dreaming of handing in your notice is a game played by millions all over the world.  Living for the weekend or counting down the hours until it's time to go home or the weeks until you go on holiday all seem to indicate that many people are unhappy at work and can't wait to be free.


Yet we all know the maths. We will spend something like 57% of the hours we are awake in an average working life of 46 years, actually at work. That's a long time to be wishing you were somewhere else or to be unhappy isn't it? A dreadful waste of time and effort.


Why is our relationship with work such a difficult one?  Well according to a recent Gallup Survey, 71% are ‘not engaged’ or are ‘actively disengaged’ from their work.  That's a lot of people wishing they were somewhere else.  Presumably the remaining 29% are reasonably happy then? No it appears that in the same worldwide survey the global figure that actually enjoy their work is just 13%.  We don't know the makeup of this minority group but we could make a guess that some are self-employed, some are doing very rewarding jobs, some are very positive people and some are working for enlightened managers or organisations.


So isn't it time we took this problem seriously and began thinking about work differently? Maybe one of the problems we have to address is that we find do find it difficult to think differently, especially when a mind-set has become so deeply embedded in our collective psyche that it becomes ‘a truth’.  This is where Einstein’s view that a problem cannot be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it, comes in. There has to be a shift in our perspective.  However that shift cannot take place whilst we are attached to ideas and beliefs that keep us firmly rooted in the past and so we remain ‘stuck’; entrenched in our views reinforcing ‘that’s the way it is and always will be.’


So what beliefs do we appear to hold about work that might be holding us back? Well here are a few that I can think of.


Work is a means to an end

We go to work to earn enough money to pay the mortgage, the bills and put food on the table.  Difficult to argue that is not the case because for many of the 71% that is probably how they see it. The focus is on the material reward; it compensates for the grind experienced on a daily basis, makes Friday a delight and Monday a misery.  Yet when our main reason for working is money, we lose sight of what else it can give us. Every time I hear Alan Sugar telling his apprentices that ‘business is about making money’ I want to scream. No I believe Business is about ‘adding value’ and when you do that, you make money. The point is that work is how we can add value and also be paid for our efforts.  It can give us far more than money.  When we work only for money the experience is diminished and so are we.


You don't go to work to enjoy yourself…

Why not? The relationship between learning, enjoyment and performance is hard to refute.  We accept that people who enjoy what they are doing are usually more productive but then refuse to recognise that ‘enjoyment’ is a factor that we should take seriously.  I was once doing some work in a Pharmaceutical Plant in Ireland where I was trying to help some managers create an environment where people could do their best work. Enjoyment was one of the critical factors we were focusing on. The response I got from one Operator was fairly indicative of the culture that had prevailed: ‘If a supervisor heard laughter in the control room he would ask us if we had enough work to do’.  Here is a glimpse of the problem.  We have a whole load of people in Management who believe there is no place for enjoyment in the workplace and a lot of people working for them who also believe they don't go to work to enjoy themselves. So the status quo prevails.


If you don't control people they will not perform…

We are working with an outdated and irrelevant set of beliefs about how people need to be managed and what culture we need to create in the workplace if we want people to perform.  The evidence it is outdated and flawed is obvious. If it was true then we haven't have 71% of our workforce saying they were ‘not engaged’ would we? Yet our response appears to be to push people harder in order to get ‘more from less’.  My own experience is that the more emphasis you put on ‘performance’ at the expense of ‘learning’ or ‘enjoyment’ the less performance improves.  Conversely the more emphasis you put on ‘learning’ and ‘enjoyment’ the more the levels of performance go up.


We can't all have enjoyable jobs…

That is probably true but we can choose to find enjoyment in the jobs we do have. What difference would it make if we went to work looking for ways to enjoy our time there? In fact who do we take to work? The person who is ‘fed up, watching the clock and determined to do the minimum’ or somebody who is looking to find a way of making a difference in some way.  A few years ago when I was flying to Ireland to work with the Pharmaceutical Plant I mentioned, I was waiting for a courtesy bus at Manchester Airport to take me from the car park to the Terminal. I’m not sure why they call them ‘courtesy buses’ because my usual experience was anything but courteous. Most of the drivers were clearly so bored and fed up with driving the same two mile circuit every day that they hardly acknowledged you. However, I met one driver who was completely different. He saw every passenger as a chance to interact with somebody and to make a difference to. He was amazing and clearly had found a way to enjoy a ‘boring’ job.


If your job is to collect supermarket trolleys in a car park and make sure they are returned to the store your best opportunity to make your role more enjoyable is the way you interact with customers isn't it? In fact businesses spend a small fortune every year training their people to improve their customer service when they should be helping their people see that positive interaction with their customers is one way they can enjoy their job more.  The customer service will improve believe me.





Letting go

If we are to redefine what work means and begin to encourage businesses and organisations to co create a different work environment we may have to start by letting go of some of the beliefs we seem to hold.  The crucial battle to win is convincing the people who lead and manage others that the model of control, power, manipulation and mistrust that the business world seems attached to is not going to make work a better place.  When you get right down to what people want from their work you find this:


        ~ They want to feel they are making a difference in some way.

        ~ They want to be treated with respect

        ~ They want to feel valued

        ~ They want to feel trusted

        ~ They want to be treated fairly


These are fundamental needs that human beings respond to.  The way we are treated is the single most important factor that determines how we feel about our work.  I think we all know this but somehow most of the people who manage others cannot bring themselves to believe it.  I am at a loss to explain why they seem intent on creating a culture that is the exact opposite of the one they need.  Where you find a manager that believes in challenging people and at the same time believes that they should be treated with respect, shown they are valued, can feel they are making a difference and are being dealt with fairly you usually also see high productivity, low absenteeism, commitment and loyalty. You usually also see people enjoying their work.


As somebody once told me ‘you don't have to work hard to motivate most people, you just have to avoid demotivating them’. We seem committed to doing the latter.


Is it really so difficult to let go of ideas that are clearly no longer working? Did they ever really work?  Time to give an alternative approach a chance maybe?  If we looked at how we could help more people find their job enjoyable, we would also make headway with employee engagement, retention and performance improvement.  I’m not just talking about investing money in the hygiene factors either although that may also help; I’m looking at helping them see what opportunities there are within their role to find more enjoyment.  If we could do that as well as increase the number of managers who understand what I am saying in this article, we could make a significant difference to the millions who are not ‘working free’ and counting down the days to the weekend.