Thursday, January 01, 2004

Report From The Front - Reflections On A Dysfunctional Workplace

Some of the most common
questions I hear from managers:

"Is it the same in other workplaces as it
is here?"
"Are other employees as unhappy as our
"Did we just draw a bad hand when we
hired? Everyone is so miserable here."

Common questions to be sure, each
reflecting the grim reality that more employees in the
American workplace are unhappy and discontented than
they have been in a half century. In my book, "Why Work
Isn't Working Anymore," slated for publication in March,
some answers to these perplexing questions are posited
to a disease that has debilitated the American
workplace, a disease the symptoms of which include . .

  • We earn more, yet enjoy it less.
  • We meet more people, but know fewer of them.
  • We work with humans, and treat them like human
    We strive harder for success, but have
    never felt more like failures.
  • We call ourselves 'teams,' but when a teammate is
    put on the street most of us do not feel compassion,
    but only relief that it was him, not us.
  • We pretend to be fearless, yet have never been
    more afraid.
  • We claim our families are most important, but
    spend more time in our offices than we do with our
  • We talk about 'work/life balance,' as if work and
    life were not part of the same experience.
  • We justify overwork to provide more Stuff for our
    families, when what they need more of is us.
  • We work for more money, which never becomes enough
  • We say 'the customer is always right,' knowing at
    least 50% of the time the customer is dead wrong.
  • We boast employees are our greatest 'assets,' and
    regrettably, we often mean it.
  • We say our work is 'meaningful,' but we know we're
    just hucksters selling, insuring, or servicing more
    junk that will one day be fodder for a landfill.
  • We say we are the 'richest nation in the world,'
    while 30% of us are working ourselves poor.
  • We mistake egotism, greed, and power, for passion
    and greatness.
  • We want to be great rather than doing something
  • We admire men whose lives are crimes in progress
    because they have more than we do.
  • We tout change, but are not willing to risk
    security to actually experience it.
  • We talk about 'doing the right thing,' yet we let
    the end justify the means.
The American
workplace is troubled. What we look for there, and
sometimes find, doesn't make us happy. 2004 brings an
opportunity for all of us not only to become better
managers, but better people, more insightful, more
sensitive, and that requires some introspection, which,
in turn, requires most to reorder priorities, recognize
their lives are more than acts of commerce, that none of
us make it alone, that what we do for a living is not
important, but that what we do for a living gives us
unique opportunities to bring happiness, contentment,
and joy into others' lives, which in turn, brings it
into ours.

No corporate policy or "work-life"
balance program is going to stop the slide of employee
contentment. Indeed, corporate America has been an
accomplice to the problem, pandering to the Myth of
More, that endemic belief that more money and more stuff
will one day become enough money and enough

All evidence is to the contrary. It is
other people in our workplaces, and our relationships
with each other that are most relevant and predictive of
our happiness and theirs. Productivity is merely a
byproduct and, ironically, cannot be accessed directly,
but only by creating a culture that promotes close

Corporate America can adopt a new
paradigm, one in which employee happiness and
contentment is paid more than lip-service. Or, corporate
America can keep throwing money at the problem,
relegating the whole of workplace experience to
economics. History tells me that most companies will
continue doing the same old things in the same old ways,
and they will continue to fail, experiencing ever lower
morale, contentment, happiness, and in the long term,
increased turnover and the costs attendant with it. A
few will open themselves to new ways of thinking, new
ways of doing, and they will be the leaders, the
employers of choice, in the post-modern workplace.


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