Work, Working or *Working*

When was the last time you went to ‘work’ but didn’t do much ‘working’? Have you or your co-worker slept on the job? Have you or your co-worker been on social media for the better part of the day? Have you or your co-worker watched YouTube for more than just a few minutes while you were on the clock? You aren’t alone…

The Enabling Job

This phenomenon isn’t anything new; it’s just more in our face. We have more options. Instead of socializing with whoever is around us (who may be actually *working*), we can socialize on our phones. In an enabling job, there is no immediate feedback on work tasks, and if there is, it is not significant enough to push someone to take action.

An enabling job could look like this: Get to work anywhere between 7 and 9 a.m. and socialize with co-workers sitting around you. Prepare for a status meeting from 10–11 a.m. Talk about the status of your work and how long it will take to finish, then listen to 10 other people give their status. Leave the meeting a little late, socialize with your co-workers that were in the meeting, then go to lunch. Get back around 1 p.m. and catch up on social media, prepare for another meeting from 2–3 p.m. Afterwards, possibly do an hour of work, then go home.

Of course, there are plenty of jobs that don’t allow that much spare time. In a busy restaurant, most employees don’t have much time to do anything but serve customers. In most ‘busy’ jobs, there isn’t much ability to slack without looking like a complete jerk. In these busy jobs, there is a constant stream of tasks that typically provide immediate (and significant) feedback.

There’s not much chance to do anything if there’s always another customer requiring assistance. Imagine a call center that has a caller every minute–there just wouldn’t ever be enough time in the day to do anything. Yet, even in some of these environments, plenty of workers are going slow, ignoring customers to check their phone or socialize with others. In these jobs, the feedback may be immediate, but it’s not significant enough to matter. Yet if the job does provide immediate and significant feedback all the time, how would they know the workers aren’t overworked? How would they know the workers aren’t milking the system?

Why Does it Matter?

Plenty of companies squeeze every ounce of work out of their workers, and it’s simply too much (cough…Amazon). Yet in some areas, the opposite tends to be happening, yielding lazy workers (cough…the government). Aside from those extremes and maybe a few customers or managers being annoyed, it doesn’t really matter. In fact, if we reduce stress and get enjoyment out of life by relaxing at work a bit, then so be it. It’s somewhat the equivalent of some societies closing shop a few hours in the middle of the day to relax/sleep/socialize. No one wants to be stressed all the time, and who are we to determine what the optimal amount of work is?

The human mind is very adaptable and seems to have some sort of ‘lazy gene’ (or ‘efficiency gene’). There’s always an inclination to do the least amount of work to get whatever it wants. So, the average worker will do the tasks needed to get paid, do those tasks right such that they can keep getting paid without threat of anything happening to their job. Once they get the minimum done, they are free to do whatever they want all while still getting paid. It only makes sense to do this.

Yet, being lazy can also lead to the best workers as well. For example, the best workers are often those that are the ‘laziest’ in that they end up doing more than the average worker by being as efficient as possible. In doing so, they get more work done in less time and look better than the rest, making them more likely to get a promotion or be highly regarded. Why don’t we all do this then? What’s the ‘right’ way?


The thing is, it all boils down to our own priorities. These priorities may be conscious (e.g., gimme a raise) or unconscious (e.g., gimme the dopamine). There is an infinite number of possible priorities for each of us, and the priorities guide us to our most likely course of action at work. If our desire for a raise is strong, that will at least make us aware of what we *think* it takes to get that raise. (Whether we are thinking the right things or not is another story.)

If we have no real conscious priority with regard to our job aside from “get paid and go home,” there’s a really good chance we will do the minimum and not much more. If our priority is to become the manager, then there’s a really good chance we are going to try to do more than someone who doesn’t have that priority.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with having the priority of ‘get paid, go home.’ In fact, the way many of today’s work environments are built to reinforce this bare minimum mentality.

Hourly (and Salary) Implosion

Good employers have a tough role to balance; they are trying to get the most amount of work out of their employees, while simultaneously providing the best employment situation (pay, benefits, leave, demands, etc.). Of course, this all depends on the business’s revenue; if the business doesn’t make much, it can’t give much back to the employees. To make more revenue, the employees have to do more and more work; creating this always presents opposing forces.

The thing is, hourly and salary wages in many environments can cause some strange effects. If, for example, we pay a worker $10 an hour to be a cashier but there are zero customers, the business goes down. So we have to bring in enough customers to cover that cost. Because the ‘market rate’ for the worker (or possibly minimum wage) is $10/hour, then we have a set minimum we need to operate the business. In doing so, in some cases, we impact the ability of a business to get started, as well as the ability for a business to stay in business.

Then, to add to the mix, if we have a typical hourly or salaried worker, there is no simple incentive structure that exists. The best workers get paid the same as the worst workers, constantly creating a dynamic of infighting and high school drama because “Suzie comes in late every day,” “Joe barely does anything,” and “Lance gets paid more than everyone.”

The concept of ‘hourly’ or ‘salary’ in a lot of jobs seems to be perpetuating the problem, unintentionally ‘incentivizing’ bare minimum and lowering standards, all the while being unhinged from the actual customer and revenue.

Do Work, Get Paid, Relax

While there isn’t anything wrong with relaxing on the job, we should get paid based on what we contribute to the greatest extent possible. In sales, for example, if we sell, we get a commission; if we don’t sell, we don’t get anything. It’s as simple as that. General day-to-day work should be carved up in a similar fashion, such that not doing work equates to not getting paid. This may sound extreme, but the idea is similar to farming, hunting, and many of the timeless jobs of the past.

Of course, before too many hands go up, this is definitely waaaaay easier said than done. Firstly, we can’t track tasks and output easily. It often isn’t like sales where one sale equates to one dollar. Not to mention, there’s an extremely large number of things that could go wrong with the structure if not done well. From extreme work conditions to workers gaming the system, to unfair pay structures and plenty more, the problems are endless. The typical ‘do work, get paid’ sounds like a dictator that wants to squeeze out every ounce of work, which is definitely NOT the answer or the point.

Regardless of both the positives or negatives, changes are coming whether we like it or not. We may, one day, start seeing ‘streaming pay,’ where every second we work, our account increases. With AI and more tracking methods on the horizon, the hourly and salary wages as we know them could slowly disappear, for better or worse.

Let’s keep thinking about wages and revolutionizing the ideas now so we don’t end up repeating some of the historical labor tragedies of years past.



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