The Curse of The Brain Dead, Miserable Employee Life

It’s funny to watch 5PM creeping up and seeing everyone’s attention span waning (or should I say, sky diving like an anvil without a parachute) after 3PM, their eyes undeniably more fixated on the clock as the last minutes of the work day tick by. And then, as if someone yelled “Bomb!” they all grab their bags and run like hell to get out of there the very moment the clock strikes 5, leaving a manager walking in or looking up from their desk with an expression of slight befuddlement and saying something along the lines of “Wow, can really tell they’re dedicated to their jobs…this place cleared out in five seconds flat”. That is, of course, unless the manager mumbled some excuse about an unexpected meeting before packing up their bags and laptop and slipping out the car park before anyone notices an hour before everyone else does.

The funny thing is, changing the rules and giving leeway doesn’t actually help improve worker dedication. The only exception is if someone comes from an 8-5 job and now finds themselves employed by a new company that allows them to clock out at 4PM every day. This is pretty much the holy grail of employment perks, aside from having a free canteen with five daily menu items available. Talk to anyone who works at one of these companies though, and you’ll still see the exact same behaviour as the usual 8-5er club. Instead of being on the edge of their seats at 4:58PM, they’re sitting in the exact same position, just as eagerly waiting to get the hell out of there, only it’s at 3:58PM. If you think free lunch will keep them hooked, sadly, you’re also wrong. You’ll find long-time employees staring at the menu board, shoulders slouched in unenthused disappointment, moaning about it being burger or pizza day again…while the newbies dash up to the counter with a sparkle in their eyes and an almost irrepressible smile of excitement on their faces as they pick out their choice of lunch. The long-time employees will scoff at the sight of them and say something like, “Just wait until they get used to the menu.”, before waddling off to go get KFC instead or, if it’s later in the month, give in to whatever seems least excruciating because they’re running a bit low on cash and have to take what they can get.

Here’s the thing with people – and I’m only generalising because we all fall into this trap most of the time, unless we’re really disciplined about what we do, and or able to pick up on when we’re just bandwagon hopping like a normal part of the sheople society. Two things seem to happen all too easily, no matter where you are and what group of people you find yourself with in the Western World:

1. We conform.

Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But put someone into the same situation for long enough without changing very much about what happens in that environment, and they’ll end up numbing out a bit and losing their individual sharpness. That thing that makes you you, that gives you your character, your appeal, your personal strength and charisma, it dies a little bit more the longer you expose yourself to routine. And nothing is more routine than being stuck in the same building, on the same floor, the same department, the same desk, the same chair, with the same people, at the same times, every single day. I’m not blaming the company of your employees here, make no mistake. They’re being dumbed down by monotony just as much as you and as a result, they’re not exactly displaying an array of fun characteristics either. Larry from accounting isn’t making the same two-line conversation at the water dispenser whenever you see him because that’s all there is to the poor, boring SOB. He’s probably a champion cook and impressive surfer on the weekends, but you’ll never know that because he can’t exactly whip up a steak or show up in a wetsuit at work. Believe me, he’s probably just as annoyed by his monotonous jokes as you are. More than that, he’s probably so damn frustrated he’s screaming inside his own head and wondering what he’s doing with his life. And that’s just Larry. Now imagine everyone else around you at the office. Unless they are just absolute stars at what they do and they really are living their life’s dreams by being there, chances are they feel a whole lot like you. But back to the conformity thing. You’re expected to act a certain way at work and because of the monotony of it all, everyone in a working environment starts talking about similar things and feeling pretty similar about many things, even if you honestly couldn’t have given a free-willed thought about it if you were operating on your own accord. I started buying and talking about shoes after being stuck in an oestrogen-fuelled office for four months every day. Me! Shoes! (If you don’t know me very well, just picture Henry Rollins talking about the lovely shade of fuchsia he wants to incorporate into his living room curtains and scatter cushions. Same page? Okay good.)

2. We’ll never be happy for long.

No matter how nicely you treat someone, they will get used to it and demand more. Think putting an Xbox in your office and letting your employees have a frag match between hours of tedious coding will boost morale? Okay yes, yes it definitely will. And we’re talking about gaming and developers here so this is actually an unfair example. Point is, no matter how cushy someone’s job is, they are going to adapt to it and start looking for more. It’s human nature. We adapt to things, get bored, then look for new things to excite, stimulate and satisfy us. Our benchmarks go up higher – in the case of work, we want more pay for less hours AND all the benefits that top-level Fortune 500 companies dish out, even if we’re only temporary sales clerks at Larry’s DVD shop. There’s a bit of a mess up of gigantic proportions when it comes to work life these days. Thanks to the joys of the internet, we get to see how Google employees have this absolute fantasmagorium of a work life and office environment and dammit we deserve the same. It suddenly goes from a situation where we could potentially have a work life like this, depending on several variable factors like whether we as employees are educated, determined, hardworking, resourceful and committed enough, alongside working at a company that not only has the financial stability to facilitate spending a lot more money and resources on keeping employees happy and having the mindset and understanding of how important environmental factors, plenty of rest, growth and development and the like are to making and keeping happy, productive employees…no, suddenly this whole having a pod bed and a fish tank office thing becomes a basic human right. Kids walk out of high school with this expectation that they should be treated like royalty and any company should be so lucky to have them work there, instead of understanding the concept of hard work over a long period of time equalling work ethic and experience. But I’m going to stop myself right there, before I go on an aged ‘kids these days’ rant…again.

The only time people take back what they feel or say about how crap the company they work for is, is when they stand at risk of losing their positions there and have no prospect of finding another job. Or, if suddenly the perceived value of the company skyrockets and social and employment value of it increases. People are funny. We give social value to everything. Think about it. You don’t want to tell people you work at some low-end company nobody’s heard of, because it won’t raise the perception of you. But if you land a job at Google, even if you’re the newly employed janitor, you’d be very quick to mention “I work for Google”, within seconds of introducing yourself at a dinner party. Or anywhere else. Of course, I can’t help but hear some guy two feet away from hypothetical janitor guy scoffing and saying “Psh, don’t we all.” Because let’s face it, we all bow to Google in some way right now.

So then, you wonder, if making life easier for employees doesn’t do the trick, what will work? Employees are not rebelling when they become apathetic about their jobs and the company they work for. They’re not all secretly scheming to bring down the entire business because their dislike is really that deep-seated. No. They probably would prefer if the company did better and excelled, got some media attention and signed a new contract with a cool brand or company. That way they don’t have to lift a finger to get greater social reward out of working there. Now they can say, “I work for Ben’s websites.” *crickets and blank expressions in return* “Oh, and exciting developments are happening! We just partnered with Google!”. *sudden recognition and admiration* Of course, he happily and very deliberately leaves out the details that the business is merely using Google Analytics as a service feature now…

There are tons of factors that determine someone’s happiness and dedication at work. Hundreds, if not thousands of papers and articles have been written about enhancing personal dedication by ensuring employee growth, healthy and clean work environments and all the other things that I won’t repeat because it’s already been said plenty of times. My thoughts on the whole thing? It’s simple (well, sort of). Nobody wants to be bored. Nobody wants to feel taken for granted. That is as true in a personal relationship as it is in any other aspect of life, including work life. If you are a boss or manager and you’re in a struggling, boring personal relationship, then I’ve got bad news for your prospects about exciting your employees. Excitement and the prospect that something new will most likely happen today and again tomorrow, that gets people feeling less like the wheel-spinning hamsters they usually are. In the end it comes down to finding those people who just light up rooms by being there. Those elusive amazing science teachers we see in movies but never had as kids, who did awesome things and made us all want to be physicists…and then nearly burning down our parents’ houses in makeshift science experiments on the weekend. Passionate people. I said ‘finding those people’ just now, but I really meant being one of those people. This is the tricky part. Nothing makes people as excited as a passionate person who gives them renewed energy and interest in what they’re doing every day, but being that person is just a whole other ball game. It’s simple enough when you are in the right work environment with the right people, doing what you love. But doing a job because it’s a job and you have no other choice, that won’t get you very far into achieving anything great or feeling invincible and proud. Basically, the way we work and do things is screwed. That’s my professional and personal opinion. We’re expected to breed generations of people who are brilliant at their jobs and love where they work and what they do, but it’s just not happening.

That’s an article for another time though, it’s Friday and oh look, it’s around that time where everyone’s staring at the clock, waiting to go home…

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