Everything changes but work

Earlier this week the writer David Nobbs died. He wrote the truly wonderful and very funny The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

If you haven’t seen it, you really should. But the original series starring Leonard Rossister please, not the lesser remake. It didn’t really need remaking, for one simple reason. Whilst so much about work has changed, so little has too.

The offices and technology in the original show might look dated, the tea lady with her trolley long gone, most people no longer requiring a secretary to take down shorthand, but for everything that changes everything remains the same.

The brilliance of the series is the deconstruction of the sheer stupidity of much of corporate life. Pointless meetings, colleagues with annoying habits, rituals and routines, the monotony of the daily commute, power games – not to mention an occasional nod to something we now call employee engagement. There is a scene in series one where production has decreased as people are spending too much time focusing on happiness.

These accepted aspects of working life slowly drive Reggie to distraction, to hide amidst fantasies and daydreams, on to misbehaviour and finally, to fake his own death to escape the hideousness of it all, only to then long for it and return to his old life disguised as his long lost friend and do it all over again. He even ends up working back at the same company he loathed so much.

Sound ludicrous? Perhaps. But then isn’t much of work as we know it?

Getting into separate cars and each driving through traffic to get out and traipse into a building all at the same time to do work and then leave at the same time and do the commute in reverse. Sitting in the same rooms in the same chairs and having meetings with the usual standard agenda. Writing policies to tell grown adults what to do and how to behave. Reducing what it is that we do to little more than the sending and receiving of emails.  And so on.

If this everyday stuff and nonsense of corporate life didn’t exist, would we invent it like this, all over again?

Sometimes, a certain something will catch my eye. Maybe a company launches a new logo or a revised set of values. A product I buy changes its packaging or a company updates the features in its App. And all I can think is….. people spent hour after hour locked in meeting rooms consuming coffee and biscuits and debating the finer points of that.  Much like Reggie is required to debate the future of exotic ice creams. Bored of it all, instead of strategically devising target sales areas, he simply gets a map of the UK and draws a circle around his wastepaper bin.  When asked why half of the sales area is in the North sea he pretends it was a deliberate challenge.

Reggie mocks corporate life. He tells us that the Emperor has no clothes on after all.   The series is uncomfortable in that it reminds us of an inconvenient truth. It is funny because we recognise ourselves and our participation in the farce; there is humour in truth. Very often, work and organisations are ludicrous. We know it but we haven’t fixed it.  Yet at least.

There are companies doing it all differently. But they are still few and far between.  When it comes to how we work, we remain lulled by the siren song of familiarity.

But then I didn’t get where I am today by blogging about why organisations are ludicrous….

One thought on “Everything changes but work

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