Work Sucks. But, Why?
Our new guest writer, Christopher Kiely, is taking us straight into the vernacular with “Work Sucks. But, Why?” Christopher Kiely has over 30 years experience in the transportation and heavy equipment maintenance industries with most of those years spent training technicians and maintenance practitioners. He has written for various online outlets in the past and after some time away from writing has returned to share his thoughts on equipment maintenance, training and employee development. Currently self-employed and loving it, he spends most of his worktime travelling the world supporting the mining industry and building relationships with his fellow maintenance professionals.
We have all heard the cliché, “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life”, similar quotes have been attributed to everyone from Confucius and Mark Twain to Tony Robins and Oprah Winfrey. All these people seem to have a different definition of work than I do. Perhaps as a mechanic, mine is more based in the mechanical principal that energy is the capacity to do work and not the notion of work being some sort of automatic drudgery. If I want to accomplish things I enjoy: make a tasty meal, write a song, fix something that is broken, I need to do work. That isn’t a bad thing. In those cases, work provides a sense of accomplishment.
Yet the notion that “work sucks” persists, despite what I may contend. So why is that? Why do so many people view something that can provide a sense of accomplishment as mere drudgery? The answer is perhaps right in the question. There is no sense of accomplishment.
Not every job is one of achieving things. A mechanic or welder or craftsperson sees the fruit of their labour, what their work produces, on an almost daily basis. The part was broken, now it is fixed. Where once there were just pieces of wood, now there is a cabinet. Other jobs are not so lucky. Finishing piles of “paperwork” (not that we work with actual paper much anymore) or getting through all those unanswered emails, never seems to have the same sense of accomplishment. Often it is more a sense of relief when it is all done, and “relief” implies some sort of stress or pain has ended.
So, what is the source of this stress or pain in many jobs? The work itself? I suppose for some, but if the type of work you chose to do causes stress and pain you might want to ponder the masochistic underpinnings of that. Most people do not live their lives in pursuit of work and professions that cause them pain. Yes, some jobs are physically demanding and cause aches and strains, that is not what I am discussing here. Some of the most difficult, dirty, labour intensive, mentally challenging and hard-work demanding jobs are greatly enjoyed by the people that do them. What I am talking about is the mental and spiritual pain caused by what some perceive as the soul-sucking drudgery of work. Where does this soul-sucking drudgery come from? I contend it comes from leadership, or more accurately, a lack there of. The stress and pain of most jobs comes from poor unqualified “leaders” in name only.
I work in a risk filled, physically demanding, labour intensive industry with high demands. Mining is one of the most dangerous industries in the world, working on giant-sized machines with giant-sized parts and giant-sized tools is labour intensive, and mining equipment maintenance is always under the constant pressure of mining production. They demand things be fixed “Now!” and fixing those things is often dirty and difficult. My roll within this industry has often been an autonomous roll that has taken me all over the world, through different countries and cultures, different mine sites, different companies and corporate cultures. I travel to these mine sites to support the companies that develop and maintain them, but I do not work directly for those companies. Often there are two companies on the one site, the customer and an OEM dealer. On large mine sites there will be multiple companies and often the spirit and attitude of the workers for these companies doing nearly identical work can be very disparate.
If the work is the same, the environment the same and the demands the same, why the difference? Simple, people and attitudes.
What people have the most effect on the culture and attitude of a company? The leaders.
Poor leaders suck the accomplishment out of everything, they make you feel like your best is never good enough, they do not properly acknowledge the fruits of their employees’ labour and even as a mechanic or craftsperson if what you produce is not recognized as having any value, then the sense of accomplishment is diminished. I wish I could say these types of leaders were rare, but they are not. And as I contend here, if they were rare, “work” wouldn’t have such a bad rap. Sad to say, but in my now 30+ years of working in maintenance and service, I have witnessed many more maintenance managers and supervisors unfit to lead people than I have great leadership from these rolls.
Great leaders create teams and cultures that feed a sense of purpose, accomplishment and belonging and when people are filled with a sense of purpose, accomplishment and belonging, they enjoy what they do, and they thrive. In my industry this should be easy for leaders, the sense of accomplishment is right in the work. Typically, the supervisor or manager simply must get out of the way of his employees while actively training, mentoring and supporting them. In other industries and jobs where perhaps there is a lack of daily accomplishment in the work itself, data entry for example where there is always more data to enter, and the database is never finished, the sense of accomplishment is the positive culture itself. Working as a team, supporting one another, establishing and maintaining positive relationships between team members and enjoying the fruits of those accomplishments. Then low and behold, the drudgery disappears into the sense of belonging.
It is shocking how many supposed “leaders” can’t do this. Managing instead with narcissism and an attitude that employees are there to serve them, pitting staff against one another and creating divisions and silos within organizations. And it is shameful how many companies promote such people and reward such attitudes. It is one of the reasons I work for myself these days and I believe one of the reasons many companies complain about not being able to find “good people”. Good people don’t want to work with your terrible leaders.
I would say it is not a matter of loving what you do to avoid feeling like you are working, but a case of feeling like you belong and are appreciated and avoiding the soul-sucking drudgery caused by weak leaders that diminishes or negates a sense of accomplishment and gives “work” a bad name.