Adrift at the Office


Mubariz Mehdizadeh

Have you ever felt that you and the organization that you work for just aren’t the same page?  That your values and their values just aren’t the same anymore?  Have you started dreading going to work instead of looking forward to work?  Do you feel lost in a sea of cubicles with nowhere to turn?

We all feel like that sometimes and there are always reasons for the feeling.  But what impact are those feelings having in your life, both personal and professional?

A long time ago, probably before some of you were born (yes, I’m that old), I was working with a team on converting and updating an application from one archaic technology to, well, what we would affectionately now call “legacy” technology.  But things weren’t going well.  The team was working fifty-five hour weeks (eleven hours a day, five days a week) and the wheels just seemed to be spinning.

The Project Manager thought that we had too many tables so he took everything home on a Friday and came back with a new data model on Monday.  Less than half the tables.  Two months later we were back to the original number of tables.  But in the meantime, we redeveloped a number of applications just so we could use the new data model.  And then we had to change things back.

We had at our disposal a tool that would have significantly decreased the effort, but we weren’t allowed to use it.  You see, I was with a consulting company that got paid by the hour.  If I could reduce the number of hours on a “cost and materials” project I would be taking money away from the company and that wasn’t permitted.  (Although not a direct quote from the manager, it is close enough.)

It got to the point where I was drinking Pepto like it was Coke.

I was definitely out of sync with the organization.  They had an objective that didn’t sit well with me, that didn’t resonate with my internal sense of direction.  A couple of large (Costco sized) bottles of Pepto later and I just said “<insert expletive> it” and shut down my brain and just did my job.  I did my 55 hours per week, kept my nose clean and just shut up.  I told them that they would be consuming a lot more horsepower than they had initially projected, but I didn’t hammer them over the head.  One email and done.  If they wouldn’t listen they wouldn’t listen.  (They didn’t listen.)

While I was there in body, functional to the point where my performance did not decrease, I wasn’t looking for innovation, I wasn’t looking for problems to fix, I wasn’t proactive.  I reacted when needed and that was about it.  I was not much more than an organic robot doing what I was told.

The project went in and, after a number of months (years?) was considered a success and I moved on to other projects, other initiatives.

The problems they had when they implemented the solution, however, didn’t need to be problems.  Almost all of the issues were as a result of people just not paying attention, not caring about their work.  They were like me, behaving like a robot.  After six months of 55 hour weeks, there was no initiative to do anything more.

Organizations need to understand that people’s expectations can either be of great benefit to the organization or the source of a lot of trouble.  Sometimes those expectations seem out of touch with reality, but a lot of the time you’ll find that their expectations are really the same expectations we have of each other:

  • We want to be treated with respect.
  • We want to be treated with dignity.
  • We want to know about things that will affect us.
  • We want to help each other.

If an organization does not treat its people this way, expect the good people to leave.  Expect productivity to drop and morale to follow.  It doesn’t take a lot to reverse the trend, but for the organization, it may mean changing how they do things.

It needs to happen.

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