What is work ?

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I am often amazed watching people at their workplace. Most common, you would agree, is to see people with their heads almost buried inside computer screens in front of them. Unless they are computer programmers (who we can ignore for this discussion), they are emailing or browsing the internet and sometimes (rarely in my view) reading a work related document on their screens. From what I have observed, it is mostly email that occupies their time and they are either creating, replying or forwarding emails. Which means people are spending most of their time communicating and unless their job description requires them to constantly communicate, emailing may not be the optimal usage of their time. It is quite common to see people communicating on email while sitting close to each other ! Email etiquette is an entirely separate subject which I will not get into here. Suffice it to say that we seem to be using our newfound computing skills to only communicate or to look for information which may have nothing to do with our work.

Then we have our phones (most people these days carry more than one mobile phone) which are used mainly to communicate on social media. While mobile phones may be great to have constant access to employees (the jury may still be out on how good that is for everyone !), they are also big distractions for employees who could be carrying on conversations unrelated to work on various social media sites while at work. Using mobile phones in meetings and during work related discussions is naturally detrimental to work being done, but somehow we not only allow this to happen but actually feel insecure ourselves if we do not carry our phones to meetings.

Which brings us to meetings – our favourite thing to do at work ! Our schedules are usually packed with back to back meetings and we are often running from one to the next without really closing out the last meeting from our minds. Now we all know how productive meetings are – especially the ones which run over a few hours (sic)! Don’t get me wrong – meetings can be effective but how many of us are willing to run them with clearly defined rules and stay focused on the subject being discussed. Do leaders allow everyone to participate and say whatever they wish to ? How do they control for the quality of content and time ? I find there are too many meetings, most meetings last longer than they should and the outcomes could be more substantial.

Its not over yet – what about training programs ? That most important activity for people development which is imperative for our learning or so says the corporate HR team. Training is really important, they say, for your future and how will you ever grow without all the essential training appearing on your resume. No one really talks about development on the job since this is more difficult for the supervisors ! How do they set this up ? How do they measure success ? Isn’t it better to just send employees to a couple of training courses and that should be enough to cross of training & development discussion at performance reviews.

Back to my original question – what is work ? The unfortunate part is that a lot of people would define most of the above as work. We need to ask ourselves if we agree with this. How would we like to pay someone to work for us and do nothing but email, use mobile phones, attend meetings and training programs ? How is work measured in today’s workplace ? Are companies obtaining real value from their employees ? Are employees gaining something other than their paychecks ? There is a lot of food for thought here and I have probably raised more questions than I have answered – but that is the idea for this short piece. We need to reflect on how our organisations are designed and how work happens and from this reflection there should be many opportunities to improve on all fronts.

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