Monday, April 8, 2013

The New Self-Help: Problems With Work? Work Harder!

Ivana Kobilca, Ironing Women [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I don't know about you, but I am getting so irritated by this whole trend of solving work problems with work. 

I mean, it was bad enough when "self-help" meant taking baths with candles, drinking herbal tea, writing things down, and talking everything over with a therapist.  But it turns out we didn't know the half of it.  Who knew the main advice for a better life in the new millennium would be Problems With Work?  Work Harder!

It's revolting.  First we have things like this Thomas Friedman opinion piece, which, like so much garbage these days, argues that because of the changes in the way "jobs" are compensated and created, people should become their own job creators. 

Here Friedman is particularly talking about education, and how it needs to teach students to be innovators -- so they can create their own jobs.  Nothing against creativity, guys, but it's ridiculous and offensive to think that this is a scheme that makes sense for the majority of people.  I mean, seriously?  The ability to network, out-think your friends, amass capital, and show off the result at SXSW should not be requirements for a basic life existence.  That is nuts. 

Then, too -- even though this case is more complex -- the return of the Millennial Work Ethic seems to be at least one facet of Sandberg's Lean-In theory of feminism:  that to succeed as a woman with a career, you must push harder at work just at the moments -- as, when you're first having children -- you might think of stepping back a bit.

Yes, Virginia, the solution to too much work is to just, you know, work harder. 

But the thing that pushed me over the brink was this article in the New York Times about "giving" in the workplace.

Did you see it?  Let me refresh your memory.  The article focuses on Professor Adam Grant, the youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor at Wharton Business School who ... well let's just say he's just a guy who can't say no.

His research -- massively prolific and hugely rewarded -- has to do with "giving" in the workplace.  His idea is that people are motivated by the rewards of giving.  Because he practices what he preaches, the people he can't say no to are his students and basically any one around who wants advice, an introduction, a letter of reference, more advice and what have you.

It sounds nice, doesn't it?  Like someone eager to help.  But it's creepy. 

First of all, it's one thing to take some powerful people with good jobs and point out to them the benefits of giving (and thus perhaps cooperation, though that word doesn't come up).  It's another thing entirely to take a bunch of people at a call center and motivate them to work harder by showing them how their work is helping someone, and it's yet another thing altogether to show that bookstore employees who donated money to a fund felt more attached to the company than people who didn't. 

As the reporter points out, it's a manager's wet dream:  motivate your employees to do more underpaid annoying difficult work not by increasing their well-being or even by making their work more meaningful but by making their work seem more meaningful.   And it costs nothing.

But even worse is the way "giving" really means doing stuff for people who are in your little business world.

In the best part of the story, the reporter tries out the credo of giving, starting with sending emails offering to help people:

The first time I exchanged those e-mails, I usually felt good; after the second exchange on a given topic, I thought perhaps I had done my duty. But I noticed that every offer of help I initiated or granted engendered four or five e-mails, at the end of which I sometimes felt surly and behind on my work — and then guilty for feeling that way. Worse, those exchanges often even ended with the person on the other end wanting to meet for coffee. Coffee! Now I struggled to find a way to say, gracefully, that there was no way I could meet for coffee — not this week or next or the week after that, because there are only so many hours in the day, and if I do not get home in time to make dinner, my children will dine on Pirate’s Booty and Smarties, which would not make me feel helpful or productive or good.

Why doesn't Professor Grant have this problem?  Duh:  he has a wife who takes care of the kids and the home full time. 

The article says Grant is "devoted" to his family:  "he has dinner most nights at home and takes his daughter to a preschool activity on many afternoons. But he also works at least one full day on the weekend, as well as six evenings a week, often well past 11."

So now "having dinner most nights at home" then going immediately back to work is "devoted to the family"?

As the great Ninotchka said, "It won't be long now, comrades."

1 comment:

thefringthing said...