Does anyone remember the ‘Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’? If you don’t, it was a 1970s TV series that chronicled the frustrations of work and life felt by Reggie, who eventually, tired of corporate life, faked his own death, only to miss the life he had lead and come back to it by pretending to be someone else.
There is a section in one episode in which, talking to his cat, Reggie chronicles his day; a day that is the same as every other day. It went a little like this (made a little more modern, of course).
Go to toilet
Check twitter feed
Take a shower
Get in the car
Drive to work
Park in the car park
Walk into the office
Power up the laptop and insert the password
Make a cup of coffee
Go to meetings
Do more emails
Check twitter feed
Have another cup of coffee
Do conference calls
More calls, and emails, and meetings, and emails, and calls, and meetings
Have a cup of coffee
Get to 5pm.
Turn off laptop
Get in car
Get out of car
Check emails that have arrived since I left the office
And so on.
I read an article recently that talked about making work enjoyable. It argued that one of the key ways in which work is made meaningful is that it is also enjoyable.
We talk all the time, in HR, about employee engagement. It is holiest of grails. Meaningful work, enjoyable work, engaging work.
But do you know what? Some people hate work.
For some people the working day is just something to be borne. Get up, go to work, get through the day, get paid. And I don’t just mean people that haven’t found the right niche. People who haven’t got the right leadership. People who haven’t got a voice. People who the company haven’t reached yet.
Some jobs are bloody tough.
Some jobs are bloody boring.
Some jobs don’t allow for people to make their own decisions or determine how their day goes, or even when they go to the toilet.
Some jobs are done in unpleasant working environments.
Some jobs are really badly rewarded.
Some jobs are so far from meaningful, engaging, autonomous, enjoyable as to make meaningful, enjoyable work a largely irrelevant concept.
Where are these people in the debate, today? We can talk about changing, disrupting, evolving, challenging work and working environments all we like. But it is a much easier debate in some areas, industries, companies, job types, than others. So much of what I read or hear discussed about improving work, is exciting, interesting, shiny. But it is sometimes so far away from the reality of the day to day for many people and organisations.
I don’t pretend to have the answer to the question that I am posing. Maybe the answer is to do everything we can do engage those people, to make all work as meaningful and enjoyable and engaging as possible. To make work better, for everyone, wherever they are, or whatever they do.
But there is just a little bit of me, that wonders. Are we dreaming?
“Where are these people in this debate today?” That is the most vital part of this blog for me. Most leadership development activity does not connect leaders and managers with the real work which is talking to their teams. This is at the heart of why so much change/culture/whatever you call it work doesn’t have efficacy.
Can I tell you a story? I worked with a local authority a few years ago. I worked with everyone from the senior leaders through to what may be considered the lowest level – the street cleaners. Some of whom also cleaned the town hall in their second jobs whilst they worked SOO hard to make ends meet. We involved them in the conversations about service and culture right at the beginning. They never had an opportunity to say no-one involved them – but no-one had before. I wasn’t welcomed, they were cynical, angry and bruised. I heard them.
Through the course of our work, when the cleaning team were given a manager who respected them, and demonstrated this, by coming out on the bins with them, seeing what is it like to clean up vomit when you don’t have the right protective clothing, seeing how proud people were about their parts of the estate, then yes, work can be better. She advocated for them, and encouraged them, and took chances with them. One chap took me aside to tell me that he goes to check his stairwells when he’s off duty and if he sees mess, he clears it up. “Not because I get paid to, but because I am proud of my work”. The team manager was a hearty life lover who cared for his men and women, worked them hard, worked hard with them, and got his reward when his pint pot of a manager heard his dream and sponsored him through night school. She asked, she listened, she acted.
No-one probably woke up with a vocation to be a cleaner; the life stories of that team were full of love, heartache, joy, pain like the rest of us, and being in that role met needs for many. They felt good about it; the audit commission awarded it’s stars.
Of course, not everyone is going to feel great about their work but if we aspire for that then – oh what potential could reveal itself.
Being real, being practical, getting to the heart of the work – can work alongside with dreaming.
Thanks for the comment. I am torn on this subject.
What got me thinking about this was someone I know well, who does work that could be described as very meaningful – she is a nurse. But she hates working. Not the work itself necessarily, but actual working. For ten years (she is 45) she has been telling me how many years, weeks and months it is before she retires. I actually find this terribly sad, as someone who loves what they do, but I guess that is just me overlaying my values on her.
Great story BTW.
There may be something else that underlies her “hate” of her work. I don’t advocate for a rose tinted world, but if we know we are valued, trusted and respected – in all our relationships, and what else is work but another relationship – then there is always something more that we can be.
I’m really glad you’ve raised this point Gemma – it’s one that always bugs me when issues on the future at work come up (I asked Dan Pink about it during one of the CIPD Hackathon hangouts and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with his answer). Megan’s example is a great one though of how you can “engage” people who do the essential but horrible jobs in society. To me it’s really about treating other human beings decently and they will generally respond positively to that.
I think as regards your friend that we need to think that people follow a normal distribution in terms of ‘enjoying’ work. A small percentage will enjoy it regardless, a few (like your friend) will hate it regardless and most people will fall somewhere in the middle.
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