My brother and I have had career paths as diametrically opposed as…huh, I can’t even think of a metaphor for this one. But it’s true: He’s spent very little time in a traditional office environment, I’ve been in one almost exclusively; I’m confined to pretty strict office hours, he’s just responsible for getting things done before a given deadline, no matter when that may be. Such is life when one of you is primarily an artist and the other is in finance. As a result, it’s possible people like him won’t fully appreciate the point of this post, but I’m going for it anyway (especially since I know ST is gonna feel me):
The traditional office structure, from the length of the workday to the types of interactions that take place to the pervasively toxic social atmosphere, is complete bullshit — and if your office is anything like mine, it’s actively harming your best employees.
To be honest, the freedom my brother has w/r/t his work setup is something I’m extremely envious of. We all have times/days where we don’t feel like working. That’s not, like, some controversial opinion on my part. Hell, it’s not even really an opinion. It’s true. I suspect part of the reason, possibly the biggest part, is that we feel like our time could be best used for other things. If I’m not feeling like I’m getting much accomplished when I sit down to write an article or work on a silly Photoshop, it’s nice to be able to leave and go do other things — that way, I’m still getting something done and my mind has sufficient freedom to wander off. There’s a time and a place for getting everything done, after all.
…except when you work in an office that expects you to be around all day, that is. Then the time is “anytime within the next 40-80 business hours” and the place is “here, exclusively, for all of those hours.”
There’s a lot that bothers me about this setup, but I’ll try to keep things focused on just a few (at least, until I eventually lose the point and just break down into a profanity-laced rant about how fucking ridiculous the whole thing is and why everyone who buys into it is a stupid blind sheep, but hey, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it). First off is the aforementioned bit about how, even though no one ever does their best all the time and it’s silly to pretend otherwise, your co-workers, direct bosses and upper-level management all expect you to just be around for 40+ hours a week. I’ll put this as delicately as I can: that is shit-fuckingly dumbtarded.
Let’s play a quick game: Imagine you walk into your office on Monday, coffee in one hand and laptop in the other, ready to tackle a small handful of projects you know have to be done by Friday. You’re a professional, so you plan to dedicate as much of your time and attention as needed to get them done in a timely and thorough manner. Since you’re also feeling it that day — thank God for that coffee! — you get two of them done before 2 PM and send them off for review. You answer your e-mails, tie up some loose ends and…
A) Walk out of the office, confident that you’ve had a productive day and that you can take care of whatever else people need either tomorrow or from home
B) Stay at your desk for the next three hours until “quitting time,” using the end of your day to browse the internet and playing around on your phone in an effort to kill time
Which would you pick, A or B? Trick question! What you actually chose was:
C) Dick around on the internet when no one is around and work when they come by to give off the illusion of productivity, even though it elongates the amount of time it takes to do the tasks and you know you COULD power through them if you wanted to
I know you picked C because that’s what everyone does. Corporate offices have been surprisingly slow to come to terms with this for some reason, too — for a corporate culture that seems to place such a premium on getting things done, they sure as shit don’t seem interested in empowering their employees to be the happiest and best they can be.
I don’t need to throw out any statistics (although I could mention that in late 2011 employee engagement was only 29% and 19% were actively disengaged) or mention any TED talks (like this one that details how the happiest employees are the ones with the most autonomy in their daily lives) to be totally confident that you get it. There’s even a decent chance you’re using this very article as a means of killing time at the job where your employer still hasn’t come around to addressing the issue of workplace unhappiness — in which case, thank you slash sorry all at once.
Ready for Round 2 of our game? Great! OK this time, let’s say that you’ve put aside caring about how your office is structured and you picked Option A, opting to leave the office at 2 PM to get a head start on your workout and dinner plans. On your way to the elevator, you run into Todd from Marketing, and he tries to engage you in a quick conversation. What do you think he says?
A) “Someone’s leaving early.”
B) [Sarcastic glance at watch] “Is it 5 already?”
C) “Wait, are you out of here?”
Give up? The answer is any and all of them at once because people don’t know how to handle the thought that someone isn’t just blindly willing to hang around all day to stretch three hours of work into eight and because fucking TODD in MARKETING doesn’t even REMEMBER what it was like to have a LIFE outside of WORKING ALL THE FUCK-SHITTING TIME TO SUPPORT HIS DIPSHIT SUBURBAN LIFESTYLE and if HE can’t find the time to do all the COOL SHIT you want to do then why should YOU be treated any differently?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
…………phew, sorry. I uh, I don’t know what came over me there. Fuckin’ Todd in Marketing, man.
Believe it or not, this brings me to my last point: The idea that you should spend the same amount of time in the office as everyone else, regardless of job description or aptitude at performing said job. I don’t want to humblebrag here, but I’m a pretty task-driven guy: give me a handful of things that need to be done in a set amount of time and I become an unstoppable force of nature. Don’t call me or e-mail me, don’t swing by my desk to make idle chat, don’t even let me know there are leftover tacos in the break room from the budget meeting earlier that afternoon — I want to power through my shit and get it OUT. It’s not just for selfish reasons either, mind you. Yes, getting done more quickly theoretically means I can get on with my day more quickly, but there’s a huge workplace benefit in getting things done more quickly and accurately. If it’s out of my hands quickly, that means it’s delivered to the customer quickly too. Everyone wins!
But wouldn’t you know it, people seem to have a problem thinking that my leaving early is indicative of a lack of desire to work — that just because I don’t want/have to spend NINE hours of my day in an office doing THREE hours of work and the other SIX doing whateverthefuckelse I want to do and casually checking in via my laptop or phone to see if anything urgent has come up that I’m the lazy one. To which I say: sorry, you assholes. Sorry you aren’t better at your jobs. Sorry you feel like you have to spend the whole day in the office justifying your employment at your highly replaceable job. By no means am I perfect at my own job, and there are certainly weeks where I’m swamped and couldn’t leave or work from home even if I wanted to…but are we really going to pressure people into wasting their time solely because some people might POSSIBLY be better performers at their job than others? Why bother with the egalitarian shit? We’ve been taught that the fundamental greatness of capitalism is that only the strongest survive, that the cream rises to the top…but you’re telling me that the same isn’t true of the people within said organizations? That, to put it mildly, is ball-suckingly fucktacular.
And by the way, don’t think I’ve forgotten about ST’s excellent comics about workplace conversations. As if to add the maximum amount of insult to injury, the only time people DO seem like talking to you is whenever they have inane, meaningless things to say, minimizing the work and maximizing the time wasting. Fucking terrific.
The point is this, people: “work” isn’t a place you go, it’s a thing you do. Some days you’ll be great at it, other days not so much — that’s fine and normal and natural. A lot of people already understand this, and as the TED talk above mentions, science agrees — why can’t modern workplaces come around to the same conclusion? Don’t ask me — I’ve gotta get back to my desk, the boss is gonna crucify me if these reports I finished yesterday aren’t ready by tomorrow.