Sunday, May 25, 2008

Finding meaning in work

Came across this on the BBC site and it struck a chord so thought I'd share.

Indeed no jobs that involve managing or leading are crafts, which is one of the things that makes it so particularly hard for managers to find meaning in what they do.

In fact managing is one of the most thankless jobs in the world. What managers are mainly trying to do is to get other people to do things that they don't want to. To work harder, for a start. Their other primary function is to carry the can, and to get blamed for all sorts of things that probably aren't their fault. Not only are they creating little meaning for themselves, they get blamed for destroying meaning for people below them.

I see my friends exhausted by internal meetings and office politics and I worry about them. So many people who loved their jobs in their late twenties have ended up managers in their thirties - then found that they can't do the things they are good at because they are stuck in the office going over spreadsheets and taking the punches from senior management, who are taking the punches from shareholders. Although the money is better all of the joy and most of the satisfaction is gone.

Meaning and purpose. After food, shelter and companionship, it's the most important thing. And sometimes you have to let go to see it.

Which is well scary.


Blogger Andy Ramblings said...

As Dilbert ( says managers are weasels. Most likely why I don't think I would take a management role. Like to keep my hands on the network kit!

May 25, 2008 6:54 pm  
Blogger Cookiemouse said...

So true. Sometimes it's not so easy to let go.

May 25, 2008 7:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There can be craft in management, it's as valid a skill as any other. Even if I'm not that way inclined I can see the art in a well-put-together project where everything is ticking along and everybody is happy and the whole is more than the sum of the parts, like building some sort of clockwork machine.

But only about 1% of people who go into management do it because they actually want to be managers - they do it because within the system there just isn't any other way of progressing. That's the problem; they end up doing things they don't want to do and may not actually be any good at in order to pay the mortgage and the university fees and feel like they're going somewhere with their "career", so of course they end up dissatisfied and feel meaningless.

And what targets are left when you don't enjoy or care about what you're doing? Chasing promotions and competing for its own sake. Which makes the job stressful for everyone else doing it too.

May 25, 2008 7:26 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Andy - I suppose weasels have to live by their wits and be ruthless! It's sad though when people I know are not weasels feel they have to be *stoatally different to their real selves in order to 'get on'.

Cookiemouse - it is hard to let go, isn't it? The process of change includes fear, even amongst joy. Even change for the better can still leave you feeling shell-shocked.

Be careful what you wish for, it might come true, they say. I'd add, when what you wish for arrives, take enough time to adjust to it. Even wonderful sunshine can burn your skin after too long in darkness or rain.

May 25, 2008 7:44 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Rachel said...

I totally agree FM. I don't think I would have been a very good team manager; it would have killed me and probably everyone in my team, certainly when I was in my 20's and at my most 'driven'. I was lucky - I managed to make a 12 year career of mostly managing accounts, business, not people. Saw too many good people, creative, passionate, eager colleagues turn into frazzled wrecks or bitter, bullied shadows of themselves. Not all of them, but a lot, because 'management' was the 'only' way to go. There was little development in pastoral skills, and people management, and the qualities that made some people shine coming up the ladder do not always translate into good management skills.

I went a different 'strategic/business' route im my ad career & managed to skip being an ad manager/man manager looking after a large team. Though I was was a senior member of a team, delegating stuff, other people took the visible, internal management strain. I'm bloody glad I stuck to my guns - the career route I went didn't really exist when I went that way at it, but it was worth it in the end, and now there has been a sea change in my industry with people recognising that some people are best in the office, doing internal reviews and figures, and some are best out the office dealing with clients.

Phew - no spending 40% of my time in internal meetings. With my paperwork/admin skills, it's just as well.

But I prefer the life I have now. Even though I earn a (lot) less, I'm happier barefoot and tracksuited, not suited and booted.

Although I miss the banter of a creative lively office( and the expense account lunches), I was never very into power and bossing people about, and I was shocking at admin, so I think it is better that I mentored and encouraged vaguely generally, rather than bollocked specifically and regularly.

Good managers are a rarity. I still remember my three great mentor-managers.I'd rather not let them down.

May 25, 2008 7:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, there is nothing sadder than the sight of somebody who is a perfectly decent, pleasant person start to "move up the ladder" to something they don't want to do and may not be that good at at all. Maybe they have a baby on the way, or they've just got a mortgage, or their partner/family/superego is pushing them to "progress"... but none of that is to do with the job. I used to have a team leader who came into the company higher than me, was made to spend all his time with little internal bickering tasks, and actually used to stay late so that he could get down to doing what he really liked to do, techie gubbins.

Like yourself I have moved out of that whole arena by becoming a "dressing-gown dropout" and working independently from home, but it's infuriating that all that should be necessary at all. I _like_ having somebody else do my tax. But, well, when people with a certain skillset decide the pay rewards and the hierarchy (i.e. people who like management) they are going to tend to reward those who agree with them.

May 25, 2008 8:48 pm  
Blogger Dave Hodgkinson said...

This is why I'm still a journeyman programmer. I've done the "technical director" thing a couple of times and it was great but I couldn't manage my way out of a paper bag.

Which is why I now find myself being interviewed by people with fewer years of *life* than I have in computing.

Still, my new gig has some really, really smart guys and it's going to be fun.

May 25, 2008 10:36 pm  
Blogger Clare Sudbery said...

I've always gone out of my way to avoid management jobs, have never accepted promotion, and have never applied for, or accepted, jobs which have an assumed career progression towards management. For all the reasons in your post. It's bad enough that the job itself is so stressful and unrewarding, but there's also the moral burden of - as you quote - being responsible for making other people's working lives unpleasant.

But most companies are geared towards the assumption that management is a desirable place to be. It takes a concerted and conscious effort to resist that, as well as the idea that more income is necessarily a good thing.

May 27, 2008 4:52 pm  
Blogger Clare Sudbery said...

P.S. Having read the comments... God, how I hated meetings. Any kind of meeting. They all went on forever, nobody ever got to the point, and they were so full of wazzocky meaningless business-speak. I was always just itching to get back to my desk so I could do proper work. Occasionally I managed to steer meetings into actually being productive, but mostly they made me want to chew my own ears off. Luckily I don't have to do meetings any more.

May 27, 2008 5:00 pm  
Blogger dark design said...

It was the efforts of managers that drove me into a breakdown two years ago. I doubt I'll work again.

Sometimes I fantasise about them breaking their legs. Jointly or severally.

May 27, 2008 5:08 pm  
Blogger Dave Hodgkinson said...

@dark design - It's really sad that people have fucked you up so badly. I did a lot of soul-searching after the .com crash, some of which actually led to divorce: my wife associated my freelancing with being unemployed and would have preferred it if i'd had a "steady" job pushing trollies at Tescos.

I think it's really important to dissociate "what you do" from the idea of a "job". I have two passions, messing around with computers and photography. Both of these allow me a relatively independent life and mentality and an environment I can pretty much control.

What is the thing that you do? What would you do even if you didn't get paid?

Ooops, slipped into life coach mode there.

And as for managers, I have encountered maybe one or two who do the right thing: tell you what needs to be done, protect you from the directors and then get out of your face.

May 28, 2008 11:30 am  

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