I work for fools. They are so stupid that people are stealing right in front of them and still they cannot see. These employees are so entitled. The ones that have been there for the longest use 100% of their sick days. All of them. They are just lazy. They are always complaining about having to come in on their days off for meetings. This is your job!
You are paid. How can I motivate such people? What will make them work?
Dear Working Man,
Wow. If you’re not Eastern European you should visit there—I think you would like it. They tilt sharply toward preferring very strong and clear opinions. Because I have a particularly nuanced understanding of how ideas impact people’s lives, I always find insults—well-founded or not—to be literally painful to witness, as these were. But I do understand that you’re pointed in a positive direction here. You’re looking for fairness and reciprocity and respect. While I appreciate your objectives, I’m entirely confident that it won’t be motivating for people to hear themselves described as fools, blind, stupid, entitled or lazy. What concerns me about your question is how much judgment you manage to squeeze into it. Because if you can do that to someone else, then you’ll do that to yourself too and that will steal joy and mirth from your life.
In asking your question you make a lot of value judgments and then you demand that the rest of the world to live with them. I or others may not feel that the people are stealing, or that they are stupid or entitled. These are your opinions. And not to diminish them—I would defend your right to have different ones than mine—but I’m not sure you have the same tolerance for these other folks that many people might have. Rather than the managers not-seeing things, it may be a case that they simply have a better understanding of all of the forces that may be at play.
Is it really surprising that the employees who have been there the longest would also be the ones using all of their sick days? They’re obviously older—which statistically means more doctor’s visits—and they have ageing parents whose medical visits they are also likely to be needed at. In short, it would be more surprising if they weren’t gone more often. And if they or their parent is among the 25% of people who will deal with cancer in their lifetime, it sort of makes sense that they might try to schedule debilitating treatments for Fridays so that they have the weekend to recover. In which case the worker has sacrificed their own life rather than risk losing more time off work. Again, yes there are lazy people. But everyone’s lazy sometimes, and there’s no way for others to be able to judge that from the outside and those judgments are only hurting you anyway.
You go from stealing via laziness to stupid and then on to entitled. But you don’t really know what they bring to the table because a lot of every job happens inside your head. And they also might feel they have a right to feel entitled. If they’ve diligently worked somewhere for twenty years and then suddenly last year it’s announced that the company has negotiated a rollback in wages, then it would make sense that people would feel they had been cheated. Whether they were or not is a matter of perspective, but those that feel cheated will attempt to balance the scales in some way.
Finally, there’s this worship of work that’s a bit disturbing. I work hard and encourage others to do so as well. I’m 100% for putting in a good day at work for the very selfish reason that it really makes a work day move faster, feel better, and it generates the best results for the business and for our co-workers and ourselves. But that ethic should be born out of us being ourselves, rather than us being a slave to a title with an executive office-chair for a throne. We should work to live, not live to work. Companies that try to place themselves too centrally in the lives of their employees will find that, as with any relationship, too much time together prematurely burns the relationship out.
Companies are legal entities. They aren’t doing anything wrong—they are literally sociopaths by design (see: the film The Corporation). They do what earns most and they continually move in only that direction. So it won’t matter how loyal those employees are. The company will fire them in an instant if it increases profitability because that’s what it’s built to do. And those older workers know that from having lived long enough. They accept how the system works. And they can see the ends of their lives approaching and that really gets people accounting for where they’re spending their time, and what they’re doing while they’re there. And from that perspective people realize that work just isn’t, nor should it ever have been, as important as we might think when we’re younger and a bit more rigid in our thinking.
Doing a good job is a matter of character. But nothing you pointed out suggests that these people aren’t necessarily character people doing a great job. It’s just they don’t appear to be in your judgment. I might personally agree with you if I saw them, but who cares? Who are we? We don’t actually know and we’re not the deciders of such things anyway. So why juggle these thoughts in our consciousness? We should just be ourselves and let others be themselves too. You’re not changing anything for the better, you’re just wasting your days being upset when you could just as easily be happy. And as a happy hard worker—in that you may find you inspire new hires to go more in the direction you’re modelling.
Capitalism is people getting the most value for the least money. Companies will try to pay the least possible for the largest amount of work, and employees will want to get paid the most possible for the least amount of work. That’s how it’s set up. So if through historical knowledge, or personal relationships, or their value to customers, someone is able to translate just a bit of work into a lot of paycheque then they aren’t cheating or stupid—they’ve won the game of capitalism!
Your bosses have all kinds of things to do both personally and professionally that are entirely invisible to you. So while it may selectively look like they’re not doing what you think they should, they are undoubtedly doing something. Maybe that’s completely slacking off. But that is unlikely. They’ll have someone to answer to as well. So don’t think you can guess their jobs from the outside. Every part of life is nuanced and much more complex and challenging than it might appear with just a quick look. So we shouldn’t rush to judgment because in many cases we’ll actually lower our chances of succeeding. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—you’ll win a lot more bets by betting on people being decent and generous than in betting the opposite.
Relax. Focus on your own job. Stop all of the judgmental thinking and fully absorb your consciousness on your work. Make your employment a silent meditation. And do your best not to let yakking judgments about co-workers cloud your view of what’s going on around you. Be quiet inside and simply do your work without a bundle of thought surrounding it. That will feel better for you and that will often accomplish a lot more than trying to change others. And it should also leave you with more energy to invest in things like laughter and frivolity. Because those are important too.
Have a great day at work.