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Leaders make work work like it was meant to work

A couple of years ago, one of the best-selling books in France was a humorous take on working life called Bonjour Paresse (Hello Laziness).
 

Just a few quotes reveal the general thrust of the book:

• “You’re a modern day slave. There’s no scope for personal fulfilment. You work for your pay-check at the end of the month, full stop.”

• “It's pointless to try to change the system. Opposing it simply makes it stronger.”

• “What you do is pointless. You can be replaced from one day to the next by any cretin sitting next to you. So work as little as possible...”

People laugh at The Office and Dilbert for the same reason, recognising the dismal truths in the parodies. Cynicism has become endemic in the workplace.
 

People need a purpose beyond mere material needs and wants, one that relates to personal growth and respect for the contribution they make. It is the responsibility of leaders to ensure people have that sense of purpose.

In my own surveys, I’m concerned but not surprised to see how many people suffer from Mondayitis, a sure sign that people are disillusioned and demoralised. No wonder a recent survey in the US found that only 29 percent of workers actually feel engaged at work.

Dr Lawrence Peter summed it up by noting that “Many people stop looking for work when they find a job.” But humour aside, this is obviously a serious matter, and negative attitudes to work are a direct challenge to leaders


So what is work?
Human beings have never been sure about how to define work. 2500 years ago, the Bhagavad-Gita told us that “What is work, and what is not work, are questions that perplex the wisest of men.” The dictionary defines work as being occupied in business or labour, or any effort directed to a purpose. Work can be understood as all compulsory activities, or all tasks required for securing subsistence needs, or perhaps all legal efforts to satisfy economic needs and wants.

Whatever we may think, work is generally accepted by sane and honest people as an essential test of character and a major source of self-respect.

 

It naturally involves effort and sacrifice, and it is one of the main avenues to the personal fulfilment all human beings seek.

That is why work is such an important part of our lives. Lawrence Perlman of Ceridian Corp. made the point with telling insight: “When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, they don’t say I want a boring job where the only thing I look forward to is Friday.”

People under-performing or causing trouble in the workplace often has the same roots as young people engaging in destructive behaviour – boredom and a lack of self-respect. Meaningful work is essential for all people, and when they don’t have it, social dysfunction is a predictable consequence.

The missing factors of purpose and leisure

Sadly, attitudes to work have become badly corrupted. When asked why they work, most people respond with: “To pay the bills”, “To get rich”, or “To retire in comfort”.

These limited and misguided goals produce the disillusionment we see in the workplace. People need a purpose beyond mere material needs and wants, one that relates to personal growth and respect for the contribution they make. It is the responsibility of leaders to ensure people have that sense of purpose.

Sustaining that purpose week in and week out requires balance in one’s life. And that is only possible with leisure, which is today a badly misunderstood concept. The ancient Greek word for “leisure” is in fact where we get our word “school” from.

Leisure is meant to be time used for personal growth through reading, cultural activities, and sports. Television, partying, and being a spectator do not qualify in this regard. But people who are misled to believe that work on its own gives meaning to their existence can be forgiven for using their time so poorly, both in the workplace and out. We should not live to work; we should work to live.

Which would you rather have – an enthusiastic and efficient worker for eight hours, or a demoralised and deficient worker for ten? Leaders know the value of purpose and leisure in the lives of workers. But, of course, the misleaders are calling the shots at present.

 

Leaders make work work like it
was meant to work

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