Career Advice, Watercooler

Why Workers Get Left Behind

First, have you considered how weird jobs are? The very idea of a job is something left over from medieval times. The serf owes his or her allegiance to the lord of the manor. In exchange, the lord provides protection and minimal economic security. The lord takes the lion’s share of the economic output generated by the serf.

Really, the difference between today’s careers and indentured servitude is that the lord felt an obligation to provide in times of distress. Today, the relationship is pretty one-sided. At-will-employment is a normal thing in most states. The lord simply uses you until he is done.

But, you say, what about the top performers? Don’t they move from position to position with ease and enjoy royalty-like compensation, perks and benefits? Aren’t they the shining examples of the power of the system and its ability to identify and reward the true creators of value?

Yup, we say. Just like prison trustees.

Most of us really can’t change jobs just because we want to. Let’s face it, we need the money. So while corporate consultants go on and on about intrinsic motivators, most of us work for money first. Intrinsic motivators and passion is just gobbledygook for ‘you ain’t getting a raise this year’.

The lord wants us to work for love in order to pay for his yacht.

Where do you think hobbies come from? The company buys a fractional part of our self worth and (more or less) prohibits us from self-actualizing. At work, the only thing that matters is the job. Other talents are squeezed into nooks and crannies like old books in the garage.

The company wants our full attention on our work – the tiny piece of us they find valuable. The real us has to be squeezed into free time; into our hour in the prison yard.

That’s just weird.

Go ahead, try to have a real relationship with someone that is exclusively focused on one aspect of their capabilities. It gets monotonous quickly. That’s why the insides of most companies are so boring.

Have you taken a look at any of your company’s corporate awards recently? They are won based on presentations made by the human resources department. Any working stiff knows that the folks in HR have no idea what’s going on in the trenches. Those folks are responsible for stirring the Kool-Aid that everyone has to drink. The 90% of us who aren’t high performers and don’t get to ‘share in the dream’ or be a part of the “Talent Management” system are entering a new epoch. The strange disconnects between work, self-esteem, compensation, busy-ness and corporate belonging are coming undone. Technology facilitates self-employment while economic conditions demand it.

In the prison system recidivism is usually understood to be caused by institutionalization. The longer you’re in jail, the more you come to think of it as normal. The outside world is scary and demands performance in ways that are unimaginable to the recipient of a regular check. It’s not surprising that people clamor for secure jobs instead of self-determination. The most severely institutionalized are those who get the most from the system: the high performers.

It’s the high performers who are getting left behind.