Why Work Sucks And How to Fix It

9 years ago

When I was writing a recent article on telecommuting I stumbled across the book "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It" by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. I recently received a complimentary review copy of the book and couldn't put it down.

In my day I spent over 17 years in Corporate America stuck in a cubicle and being treated like I was a 6 year old. So much of the culture and environment made no sense to me, truly plugged me in, and had a negative effect on me and my life. I never thought I'd read a book that verbalized so candidly how I felt about so much of it. Trapped like an animal in a cage begging for release and knowing there had to be a better way to get results in the business environment.

While I have freed myself from the cubicle through self-employment, what is interesting is the question "why does work have to be done this way?" holds true whether you work for someone or yourself. The only difference is when you work for yourself the path to implementing a shift in mindset and change is much shorter. Either way it comes down to your beliefs about work. I loved this passage from the book because I SO felt this way when I made the shift to self-employed:

Even if someone waved a magic wand and said, You are no longer judged based on time, you would probably still judge yourself based on time. You ahve spent so many years with a "lunch hour" that even if someone said, Take as long a lunch as you like, you are still going to check your watch halfway through your sandwich to see if you're taking too long.

Let me just say that my first month or two of self-employment I ran to my home office so I wasn't "late", timed my lunch, and forced myself to "work hard". Beliefs and long standing survival habits take some time to crack.

Unfortunately for so many companies those beliefs amount to nothing but Sludge being thrown from person to person which ultimately drives down results and kills morale. Ressler and Thompson define Sludge as:

Any negative comment we make that serves to reinforce old ideas about how work gets done. Another way of looking at Sludge is as a kind of code for the status quo.

In organizations you've got many people reinforcing the status quo all the time. Questions abound around "acceptable" excuses for leaving early, missing work, etc. People are judged only by the "ass in the seat" rule versus real results. This reinforces "business as usual" no matter how many quality, change management, and other motivational culture change programs a company puts in place. Ever been to a rash of these trainings, "new ways of doing business" meetings, and team building events only to walk away and have everything be exactly the same? Me too. This book talks about a fundamental shift in beliefs and way of doing business.

What makes work so stressful for so many is the lack of control coupled with the high demands placed of today's business environment. When you at least have control over how you deliver results and live your life, even the most demanding situation can become manageable. The book is peppered with vignettes from real people working in a ROWE environment in Best Buy which demonstrate that very thing.

I started cruising the Internet to see what other people had to say about the book. I felt such an affinity to it and only wish that ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) would become the norm in all companies. Yet I didn't want to appear like some crazy woman who receives a review copy of a book and can't stop raving about it -- what were others saying? I'm finding others have a similar affinity.

Alexandra Levit's Water Cooler Wisdom has this to say about "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It":

What at first started as an underground movement and later gained the wholehearted support of the CEO, ROWE increased Best Buy’s productivity by 41 percent and reduced turnover by 90 percent in some divisions. I’ve been a fan since I first wrote about it on Water Cooler Wisdom back in 2006!

In a ROWE company or department, employees can do whatever they want whenever they want, as long as business objectives are achieved. As Cali and Jody put it, there’s no more begging for permission to watch your kid play soccer. No more cramming errands into the weekend, or waiting until retirement to take up your hobbies again. You make the decisions about what you do and where you do it, every minute of every day.

Zen Personal Finance sums up the book in their review very succinctly:

Why does work suck? Because full-grown adults are made to feel like children, Slaveslinks to the clock, working by rules that are more fit to the 19th century then today. We work all week and then have to spend the weekend running errands until Sunday comes and that familiar dread creeps into the pits of our stomach. Even if our work life offers us some time flexibility, using that flexibility too religiously may lead to you being labeled as less than dedicated, which then leads to being passed over for promotions, while the guy who stays at work from 7AM to 6PM even though he does a lousy job and never gets his work done is ultimately rewarded purely on the basis of "face time."

Business Insight ZONE talks about the flip side of the coin as it relates to the book -- management and getting buy in.

Mind you, ROWE also implies huge changes for management - new routines, new areas of focus, and new ways of thinking about everything from staff meetings to "managing by walking around" to performance evaluations, raises, and promotions. Although they don’t spend very much time detailing these implications, the authors are candid and unapologetic about them. In their view, if a ROWE brings better business results while making life easier for workers, it ought to be followed, starting as soon as possible, by every company that can possibly follow it. Q.E.D.

Their assurance about this is not based in theory or abstractions, because they’ve spent the past few years implementing the ROWE method at a little outfit called Best Buy, where the entire corporate staff now adheres to ROWE principles. (Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson wrote the foreword for the book.)

Truly the ROWE "Guideposts" that Ressler and Thompson adhere to would make any status quo manager choke. Yet, the truth is they can and do work, Best Buy proved it. There are 13 of them, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • "Employees have the freedom to work any way they want."
  • "Arriving at the workplace at 2:00pm is not considered coming in late. Leaving the workplace at 2:00pm is not considered leaving early."
  • "Every meeting is optional."
  • There is no judgment about how you spend your time."

Sound liberating?

Work Happy Now! did an interview with the authors. I particularly liked this question and response:

You have been doing the book circuit and talking to companies about ROWE. What is their biggest opposition to it and what do you say to calm their fears?

The biggest opposition we run into is the shift from focusing on time/number of hours worked (or perceived to be worked) to results. Moving to a ROWE takes a complete paradigm shift. The culture of work needs to change and one of the things we can do to move in the right direction is stop implementing flexibility programs over the existing industrial model of work. Flexibility programs are all about time, and tracking when people are working. Just about every employer says they value output over face-time, but then they reinforce outdated rules and policies about when, where, and how long work should take. Ultimately, we’re serving two masters under the current system: time and results. Until we completely eradicate time from the equation, we will never be fully invested in results. Organizations are full of managers in their late 40s and early 50s who have clawed their way to the top within the industrial model. But they, too, want a better life. Generation Y will force the issue, and ROWE will be the vehicle of change that will allow all of us to achieve the lifestyle we want.

Not everyone believes ROWE is the end all panacea, though. Even though The Office Newb thinks it would be great for someone with her workstyle, she's not so sure it can work for the masses especially "When Employees Can't Be Trusted":

But what none of these articles, blog posts or podcasts seem to address is how exactly do you create an environment where everyone is productive, trustworthy and responsible?

"Results only" work environments are only successful if each employee is assigned an individual, measurable set of requirements that are assigned a specific due date. It’s been my experience that most companies can barely define each employee’s job (I once worked for a year in position that had no formal job description), nor set reasonable, measurable goals for each of them. The foundation of ROWE is a competent management team that is able to both see the big picture and quantify it into doable steps. How many people can say that their managers successfully accomplish both of those things?

Sounds to me like management needs to step up to the plate as much as if not more than the employees for ROWE to work.

Much like the paradigm shift with technology, I believe Gen Y will have a hand in shifting cultures. There will come a time when even the oldest people in an organization can't remember a life without computers and gadgets. The same will someday also hold true for a results only mindset.

To learn more about the book, ROWE, and the authors, you can check out their blog.


Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, works with women who are ready to create their lives and businesses in a way that fits who they are rather than how they were told they "should". Get the free 12 part eCourse "How to Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin" http://www.coaching4lesbians.com and start taking charge of your own success.

To get the latest word on personal finances from an LGBT perspective and Paula's practical coach approach to the topic check out Queercents http://www.queercents.com.

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