The Office Monsters Are Trying to Claw Their Way Back to 2019

I think the deal here is that “management” has streamlined their work to be efficient and do as much as possible. And they can’t stand idle workers.

The office revolves around management: people do prep for meetings where management will make a decision, direct next steps…do the management things. Management doesn’t see how much waste, spinning goes on in that prep. Most of it is nonsense and not needed.

Compounding this is that any gains in “productivity” that office workers get tends to just mean they do more work, there is little reward to being more efficient and productive. This is all to say that people don’t really need to do as much work as management thinks they need to do. You don’t need to do so much, but management is in this mode that lots of work needs to happen.

To ponder this: can you imagine a scenario where you’ve have the big meeting with management, they make a decision or, even more, have just been informed of the status of projects…it’s 11am, and management just says “well, that’s enough for today. Let’s all go home and see you tomorrow.” No, management always thinks there’s more work to be done, that could be done to make things better, or just keep floating. And when it’s unclear what that work is, they’ll set up a project to find more work, explore new options for growth, find new efficiencies. The machines, the factory, the workers can’t sit idle.

I feel like working from home – “remote working” – highlights all of this waste. When you’re in an office, everything is pulling you to be busy all the time, to not appear to be idle. So people just make up – “find” if you prefer – things to be doing. And that fits into the world-view of management: idle office workers are wasted time and money.

But, again, most activities are unneeded, especially all those activities that fill empty time. When you’re out of the office, it’s sort of impossible to just make up things to fill time. You realize how much work is just bullshit and unneeded. You do the work that needs to get done and that’s it. This creates idle office workers, and drives management crazy: they want to use that capacity to do something. When people are working at home, management can’t even go check if workers are idle. They have no “visibility.” That must be frustrating.

Management is always stressed that things need to happen – we need growth! This makes sense because, the people who get rewarded the most when there’s growth is management – and the faceless “shareholder.” The office workers don’t get much, just COLA raises of lucky, maybe a five to ten percent raise every few years, the occasional waffle party if they’re lucky.

Another side-ponder: if they could share in the reward, the pot of money would have to be divided by more people, making each individual reward smaller. At that point, the workers have to make a trade off: so I want $1,000* ($700 to $800 after taxes and other deductions) more in three to 12 months (if this new project pays off), or would I like to go finish that pile of laundry I have at home, or go check out that new sandwich place?

(* If upper level management has hundreds, thousands of people working for them, and putting in more work generates an extra $500,000 over the next year, once you divide up and portion out that money, it becomes less impressive. Let’s say 200 people drove that extra work. First, take out expenses and corporate taxes from that $500,000. Then divide it evenly among those 200, and you have a smaller figure per head. Then, if you don’t divide it equally, but divide it “fairly” (by involvement, effort put in – “merit”), many individuals get even less. On the other hand, if management instead takes most of the $500,000 gains for themselves – or, worse, doesn’t distribute it at all and sends it into that nebulous world of “shareholder value,” and takes most of the left over gains for themselves…well, of course management is motivated to do more. But, even in the best scenario, the workers who are just getting $1,000 to $2,000 more, which would be astonishing, have little motivation to “burn the midnight oil.” And, again, this is before each individual’s taxes, the speculative nature of the payout, and discounting the value of cash in the future versus time-as-cash today are taken into account, all further reducing the value of the potential payout…all calculations few people would make in real life. That is: the marginal payoff [if I’m using that term correctly] for any office worker putting in more time is tiny, potentially even negative.)

So, why would office workers care? And why would they even think that it matters, because it doesn’t? You just do what’s needed, and you don’t come up with things to fill time to appear to be working.