The most recent issue of Harvard Business Review has a special section entitled 'Breakthrough Ideas for 2006' - one of the ideas, 'Why They Call It Work' written by E.L. Kersten of Despair Inc - the company that makes those demotivational products, like posters and such.
The basic idea in the article, he argues, is that people should stop looking for meaning from their work.
I get it. That is this guys schtick. He basically argues that only about 50% of people surveyed are satisfied with their jobs and that is a result of organizational behaviorists back in the mid-1900's concluding that great work environments would produce happy, productive workers and at the same basic time humanists argued that work should be a vehicle for growth and self-expression. In turn, companies and observers of companies, including management consultants and the press, set the expectations of employees that their jobs would be satisfying and meaningful and that their employers would help them grow professionaly.
"Employees may be dissatisfied becaues they have been taught to expect too much from their jobs."
He ends the piece by stating:
"Employees should not demand that companies imbue their lives with meaning. Employers and employees have something the other needs. One of the keys to a mutually beneficial relationship is a realistic understanding of what that something is."
Again, I get it. This is the drum he beats. Cool. He'll make money on other people misery. How proud he must be of his work and the positive effect he is having on the world [grin].
What I can't belive is that HBR ran this as a breakthrough idea for 2006. This might have been a breakthrough idea of 1906, but not 2006.
This piece is so misguided in that the future work force in this country - the Gen X'ers and later - have a completely different worldview from the people that this guy is used to seeing. The kids in college today are looking for meaning and it will be up to employers to help provide it or else. My buddy Fouro shared with me a really interesting paper he wrote recently about this very subject, and let's just say that businesses who fail to respond to the changing workforce are in for a big surprise.
This short piece is as scary as it is sad. Think about it: there will be some business owners or managers out there, fed up with unengaged employees, who read this, agree with it, and give up trying to discover how they can turn those lifeless bodies into vehicles of potential. That hurts all parties involved.
What do you think? Do you think leadership is about lowering expectations or raising hope and optimism?