Careers are stressful enough without adding the difficulty and distraction these workplace lies produce.
It is Essential that You Attend this Meeting
I’ve written at length about meetings in the past because most meetings are so awful. I have a suspicion that the number of years of life lost to bad meetings rivals that of some fatal, communicable diseases. But as long as we buy into the lie that meetings, as practiced, are useful, we’ll keep frittering away that time.
Meetings are perhaps another place where easy metrics are preferred over meaningful ones. If a manager is in fifteen meetings a week, we know they must be doing something. They’re visible physically and on the company calendars. They’re taking up meeting rooms and generating agendas. But what is being done?
In my experience, most meetings are used for two unsuitable purposes: status and diffusion of responsibility. Status meetings usually take the form of one worker stating his progress to the manager and coincidentally the rest of the team. But for the most part, the rest of the team didn’t need to know that. The status meeting could be replaced with a dozen five-minute emails or phone calls between the manager and each worker, freeing up hours of time for actual work.
Diffusion of responsibility is another excuse for meetings. Business requires decisions and a lot of people would rather not make them for fear of making the wrong choice. Meetings offer a venue where a decision can be ‘brainstormed,’ but in fact the purpose is simply to hide who made the actual decision. Smart team members will make sure decisions are owned by individuals, not by an amorphous ‘we.’
This Job Requires 60/70/80 Hours per Week
Peter Drucker said “What’s measured gets managed.” If business has a central dogma, it could be summed up in the single word: metrics. Unfortunately, not enough people take the next step and search deep and hard for metrics that really count. Instead, easy measures crowd out meaningful metrics that accurately represent genuine value to management, customers, or shareholders. Since the invention of the timeclock, no metric has been easier to collect than hours worked.
But it wouldn’t be fair to blame this temporal myopia on management alone. Workers buy into the lie just as readily. It’s easy (and affirming) to point to an impressive number of billable hours. It requires more insight and subtlety to weight the value of the work produced in that span. I think we’ve all felt that ‘brain dead’ sensation that creeps up on us near the end of a day that’s gone on far too long. By that point, we’re in danger of doing negative work: of working so poorly we make more work for ourselves or others who have to clean up the mess we made.
And this is to say nothing of the outright lies that are told about hours worked. According to a US Bureau of Labor Statistics study, workers who report working 75 hours a week actually spend closer to 50 hours on the job. So if you’re trying to work as hard as other people around you say they are working, then you’re most likely chasing a phantom.
You Have to Pay Your Dues
Seniority used to be a big deal; emphasis goes on the ‘used to be.’ Decades ago, when people stayed with companies for decades and technology didn’t rewrite the rules of business on a regular basis, it really paid dividends to pick a company, grind up a career path, and finish in a corner office. But like it or not, we’re becoming a world full of contractors, freelancers, and temp workers.
The move away from career security is a good news / bad news story. The bad news is that there are fewer opportunities for people who merely want to put in time and go up the hierarchy based on seniority. The good news is for workers who can develop the entrepreneurial mindset to market their skills to a market of employers who are in desperate need. In the run-up to 2000, computer programmers with knowledge and experience using obscure, crusty machines and operating systems could ask nearly anything of employers frantic to make sure their legacy systems didn’t grind to a halt on Y2K. Y2K was, by definition, a once-in-a-millennium opportunity, but there are similar pockets of opportunity appearing and disappearing all the time.
North Dakota is a state so unremarkable that I had a middle school teacher who tried to convince my class it didn’t even exist. But the invention of fracking (setting aside important questions of environmental impact) has turned this frozen expanse into a sudden economic powerhouse. For those with mobility and creativity, the new natural gas boom offers a chance to leap ahead financially without paying any dues at all.
It’s not Personal
Here’s a motto to live by: if people are doing it, it’s always personal! “It’s not personal” is a lie most often trotted out ahead of a contentious decision, or bad news such as a layoff, demotion, or pay cut. While there can be objective, rational, business-oriented reasons for such decisions, it’s simply not possible that personal feelings didn’t enter into the equation somewhere along the line.
What makes this lie dangerous is that if we buy into it, we may not invest enough time or effort to develop the personal relationships that really drive business decisions. In your own life, consider how much personality and relatedness have helped you progress, or a lack of ‘good fit’ with the workplace has lost you opportunities. Think about the people you know who were sacked. Were they let go for ‘objective’ reasons, or because they had stepped on the wrong toes? Are there more competent jerks in your workplace or affable klutzes? My suspicion is that, with just a little coaxing, the evidence for the powerful influence of personal relationships will emerge from your own experience.
Rules are Rules
Because everything is personal, the idea that ‘rules are rules’ has little basis in fact. As galling as this may be for those of us who love fairness and justice, rules are only rules as long as someone’s willing to notice violations and sanction the rule-breakers. Go look at your corporate handbook, if you have one, and flip through to see how long it will take you to find a rule or directive that simply isn’t followed. I bet it won’t take long at all. Real rules, when they exist, are agreements between living people, that change and evolve over time.
Once again, it’s a good news / bad news story. Criminals and sociopaths will use gaps and inconsistencies in the living rules to harm others and get ahead. But people of good will can use the flexibility of actual rules to do better work and live better lives. The difference is all a matter of intent and empathy. If an exception to a rule will help you, and not hurt anyone else, for goodness sake, ask (diplomatically) for an exception. You have little to lose and everything to gain.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by