It’s not right for me to go around saying the workplace is toxic if I don’t understand the nature of the toxicity, and I suspect I don’t.
Viz., I got called out for some comments I made on Reddit’s /r/financialindepence sub last week about my disdain for social media use at work. My position, which arose from a philosophy I’ve long held, was that if you have time to be surfing Facebook/Instagram/etc. at work, then you’re underutilized and it’s on me as your boss to find you more productive things to do.
But as I was trying to get this point across, I used a horrible illustration. It was more or less, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” I expressed that quite literally. “Put your phone down. Here’s the Windex and the windows are thataway. Get cracking.”
The response from readers was straightforward.
A) Micromanaging to that level is unacceptable.
B) You sound like a terrible boss and I’d rather quit than work for you.
C) The kind of workplace you were in back in the day sounds like my worst nightmare.
D) You’ve been out of the workplace for too long to have valid opinions about how things are now, and
E) You therefore oughtta keep your mouth shut about things you don’t understand.
I totally had that coming.
So please let me know what you think of the following. My purpose isn’t to defend myself by debating you, but rather to get in touch with current reality are so I can offer my FIRE experiences in the proper context.
Thing #1: Work-life balance is so out of whack that you’re forced to manage your home life at work and your work life at home.
I *think* I get the principle here, because it wasn’t so different when I was still working.1 We had beepers and Blackberries and cell phones and laptops, and as a senior director my company paid for my internet connection. So yeah, we took work home.
And consequently we paid bills and made personal calls and handled our investments and such at work. I went so far as spending a lot of time on the various FIRE discussion boards. It follows, then, that I was being hypocritical by criticizing people who now do the same thing, even if it now takes different forms.
All that said, how far has the work-life balance gotten skewed towards work since then? My job was damned invasive back in the day but there was still a clear line between it and life…but has that line been moved or even erased? Are work and life now the same thing?
Thing #2: Being given more work is a punishment rather than a reward.
First, I agree that busywork and mandatory face-time suck and oughtta be abolished.
With that said, I think the most productive method of management is for the boss to communicate the overall objectives and leave it up to you and your peers to make them happen, while meanwhile she’s getting you the resources you need, staying out of your way, and looking forward.
Which is to say: as long as you’re being ethical and operating within the law and company policy, a good boss shouldn’t care about your methods and time management as long as you get results. Or at least shouldn’t care very much.
But say you’re a highly productive employee and your boss comes to you and says, “Hey, a legitimately important thing has come up and I could use your help. You want to take it on?”
How do you feel? Punished, or rewarded?
To my way of thinking you oughtta feel rewarded. I’ll be straight up: as a manger, the people I always promoted were the ones who’d say, “Sure, sign me up. I’ve got this.” It told me they were looking for more responsibility and if they had to make sacrifices to get it, that was OK. These days one of those sacrifices could be spending less time on social media in the office. And if they’re indeed wanting more opportunity, and handling it, it’s my job as a manager give it to them. It’s also my job to write them excellent service reviews and advocate for them to get more promotions, better raises, and bigger bonuses.
To that point about raises and bonuses: in the Reddit conversation I led with I was given to understand that in many if not most cases, promises of higher pay are bullshit. Either your financial incentives are based on big nebulous departmental/corporate goals and your personal performance is irrelevant, or else the company is lying to you in an attempt to squeeze out more work.
Which was too often true back in the day. Is it still? To what degree? And if so, I hope that when you become a manager you’ll do your best to fix it.
Simple follow-up. How can a company possibly function if work is looked at as a punishment? Seems like a perverse and oxymoronic incentive, such that the most productive employees end up doing less than the least productive ones.
Anyway, that’s my confusion. Is my thinking realistic? If not, why? Again, I’d really appreciate it if you’d weigh in to let me know whether I need to make adjustments. Probably I do, but I’m comfortable with that.