Do We Deserve Employers Who Make Us Happy?
“Partly, I blame the tech industry for this idea that bosses need to be these larger-than-life, inspirational, kind of revolutionary characters,” says 27 year-old Brian, who works in advertising.
He continues, “With startup culture being so big nowadays and everyone wanting to do something related to entrepreneurship—whatever that means—there is this crazy desire for that, you know, everyday you go into work and you’ll be purposeful and energised by what you do. And CEOs or CTOs or whatever are supposed to inspire you to feel this way. But man, let me tell you, it doesn’t work like that at all.”
While Brian has a point, most grievances about our superiors at work tend to hail from the more vanilla variety. Lack of direction, unclear expectations and sheer incompetence tend to feature heavily. And then there are the violently bad tempers, the emotional manipulation and the absurd demands of bosses who see their employees as circus elephants rather than executives.
When we think about employment, we like to ask, “What can employers do to keep the people they hire happy and motivated?”
The practical upside of this is obvious: unhappy workers equates to poor employee retention and quality of work. Business owners who take credit for their employees’ work or refuse to acknowledge their contributions routinely lose good, talented staff. In some instances, businesses fail for these precise reasons.
At the same time, I can’t help wondering if, to an extent, we’ve been looking at the employer-employee relationship all wrong.
a lot of the work we actually do is rudimentary, monotonous, and necessarily soul-sucking. this makes it so much easier for us to hate our employers for giving us such crap on a daily basis
The thing is, when an individual is hired, it is usually to perform a specific role. More often than not, this is a role said individual should have some expertise in. Unlike apprentices who are expected to learn on the job, most professional hires are made on the basis of a university degree, an internship, or prior experience.
Despite this, there are plenty of people out there who are seemingly incapable of doing their jobs unless they are told exactly how—people who, now that they’re no longer in school, have no idea how to apply what they know, and blame the absence of good leadership when they fail.
John Wong, who works at a startup, says, “It’s like if you went to culinary school and you’re supposed to know how to sear a steak but you do it badly, and you blame your head chef for losing his temper at you because you forgot to season it first.”
“When your boss asks you to pitch a client, you don’t ask how. You just do it. It’s your job to know how!” he adds.
For John, employers exist, essentially, to ensure that companies continue to run. They don’t exist to affirm your sense of self-worth or ensure that the work you do motivates you to be a better person.
“It’s also an issue of pride,” he says, “A lot of people like to blame their bosses when really, they are the ones who actually have no idea what the hell they’re doing!”
Following John’s view, if we are to distill the bare essentials that every worker is entitled to, it really comes down to only a few things. Fair compensation is one, followed by leave days (including maternity and paternity leave). Humane working hours are right behind, and that’s about it.
Things like trust and respect need to be earned, and while we’re at it, not liking what we do is a stupid reason for not doing it well
Big tech companies like Facebook and Google are famous for the opulent cafeteria meals provided to employees. Gym memberships and allowances for personal enrichment are also familiar perks at government agencies and law firms. But these are incentives, not fundamental human rights. We get them so we can feel appreciated and (hopefully) be more productive.
We do not deserve them; it’s all a big conspiracy to make us work harder and longer hours.
Serena Tan, who will only say that she works in the civil service, seems to echo John’s sentiments when she says it’s impossible and sometimes even unfair these days to look to bosses to give direction.
“The guys at the top are just so used to the bureaucracy,” she says, almost nonchalantly.
“It’s really true when people call us paper pushers, so you really need to self-motivate. Once in a while, you create some change, but otherwise, you just look at the KPIs and you do what you need to do.”
In an ideal world, “do what you love” would be a mantra we would all realistically aspire to. Unfortunately, a lot of the work we actually do is rudimentary, monotonous, and necessarily soul-sucking. And this just makes it so much easier for us to hate our employers for giving us more of such crap on a daily basis.
Yet these are the things that make life and contemporary society work. One could even go so far as to say that we would be nothing without the tedious drag of admin.
All of this really comes down to the fact that none of us should assume our worth beyond any kind of tangible proof. We cannot expect employers to think we are brilliant and treat us as such simply because our parents always said told us how smart we were. Things like trust and respect need to be earned, and while we’re at it, not liking what we do is a stupid reason for not doing it well.
Your boss, no doubt, would agree.