We Must Take Sides
Management's Midlife Crisis | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions | Automation
Quote of the Moment
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
| Elie Wiesel
The text in the image above can be interpreted in many ways. I will parse it in a hopeful way.
The Professional Try-Hard
Delia Cai is a great writer, and her takedown of what she calls ‘professional try hards’ is one of the best responses to the controversy around ‘quiet quitting’.
Over the past months, as corporate employers attempt once more to marshall back-to-school sentimentality (not to mention a collective, CDC-sanctioned shrug re: coronavirus itself) to coax everyone back into those expensive real estate holdings, the fight over return-to-office is just one of the questions that foreground not only predictable tensions between worker and boss, but also between anyone who still believes in the physical office—and all its trappings—as a desired state of “normalcy,” versus everyone else who no longer does.
We can call the former, if you’re feeling derisive, the “professional try-hards;” I’d love to be flip and just say that, at this point in planetary decline, anyone who’s a little too interested in emails and Google Docs basically counts as a try-hard, but there’s a specific category of salaryfolk and company leadership provoking a justifiable kind of scorn. The professional try-hard I’m talking about is someone who, in the year 2022, still earnestly and performatively buys into the white-collar hustle and prides themselves on it. You know this person. They’re a cross between a teacher’s pet and a supply-room narc; if they’re not already a manager, they certainly aim to be one day. While everyone else got with the program that trying hard at work—against a political and national backdrop that feels like daily, endless crisis—is ridiculous, or worse, meaningless, these guys (it’s not exclusively a male thing, of course, but I’m not not being gendered on purpose) haven’t quite gotten with the program.
Trust me: go read the whole thing.
One additional morsel, from a give-and-take with Ed Zitron:
In Zitron’s view, as he wrote last summer in “Why Managers Fear a Remote-Work Future,” the battle over return-to-office is really about the way remote work rightfully disempowers a certain type of managerial creature—those who’ve gotten by on office diplomacy and the fine art of appearing busy and important, but not necessarily useful. As he sees it, the physical office space gave the advantage to anyone whose job was making sure you’re doing yours; no wonder professional try-hards are so obsessed with forcing everyone else back. “I believe there is a large chunk of extremely performative work that is having a midlife crisis right now,” Zitron says. “Executives are slowly realizing they don’t do as much and they may not be deserving of all of this. I think they want attention. They used to go into the office and be like, ‘Hello, peon! Look at me! You have to talk to me! You have to say things that make me happy, or I’ll fire you.’”
Over the recent months, I wrote a series on Decision-Making for Reworked. The third was posted today.
Deciding How to Decide — “Like so much in business, the conventional wisdom about decision-making is not driven by science, but by anecdote. The result? In a survey of 2,207 executives, McKinsey found few believed their company’s decision-making was good.”
Who Makes the Decision? — “In the first post in this series, "Deciding How To Decide," I introduced the concepts of noise, in the sense of the variability of context and individual circumstance that leads to wide variations in how people make judgments, and cognitive bias. Those are unavoidable aspects of human decision-making. But once we move past them, the basic question remains: how do we make decisions, and who makes them?”
With Decision-Making, You Have to Go Slow to Go Fast — "Jumping to conclusions is efficient if the conclusions are likely to be correct and the costs of an occasional mistake acceptable. Jumping to conclusions is risky when the situation is unfamiliar, the stakes are high and there is no time to collect more information." | Daniel Kahneman
Automation is, in most cases, a means to replace human labor — physical or mental — with technological alternatives. The current labor shortages are accelerating efforts across the board — in warehouses, supermarkets, and on the highways — to take people out of the supply chain loop. Especially now that growing inflation has led workers to demand more money, as Peter Goodman reports:
More than two years into the pandemic, persistent economic shocks have intensified traditional conflicts between employers and employees around the globe. Higher prices for energy, food and other goods — in part the result of enduring supply chain tangles — have prompted workers to demand higher wages, along with the right to continue working from home. Employers cite elevated costs for parts, raw materials and transportation in holding the line on pay, yielding a wave of strikes in countries like Britain.
Note that we are facing a Friday deadline for a railroad workers’ strike in the US, which could lead to 165,000 workers walking off the job, with enormous implications for the supply chain, energy, food, and construction markets.
The stakes are especially high for companies engaged in transporting goods. Their executives contend that the Great Supply Chain Disruption is largely the result of labor shortages. Ports are overwhelmed and retail shelves are short of goods because the supply chain has run out of people willing to drive trucks and move goods through warehouses, the argument goes.
Some labor experts challenge such claims, while reframing worker shortages as an unwillingness by employers to pay enough to attract the needed numbers of people.
“This shortage narrative is industry-lobbying rhetoric,” said Steve Viscelli, an economic sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream.” “There is no shortage of truck drivers. These are just really bad jobs.”
Here we see the pro-labor/pro-business divide in this contentious political zone: Are the lazy workers in the <fill in the blank> industry unwilling to work, or are the employers in the <fill in the blank> industry unwilling to provide adequate pay and satisfactory work conditions?