Saturday, October 27, 2012

From Shirking To Working

One of the defining features of the government offices we visit is the number of people who seem to be comfortably sitting around doing nothing. Literally – nothing. You might find a chair occupier arrive, put away his lunch-box, arrange his things, have a drink of water and then sit down on his chair, make himself comfortable and then – simply sit there, look unseeingly in front. The more social / active among this population might move around talking with ‘friends’. The scholarly ones might unfurl a newspaper and go through it, all the while putting away files and documents absent-mindedly.

However, it would be really unfair to blame those in government service, for the desire to sit around and do nothing, especially if one is paid for it, may be found in almost as many places as you can imagine. The common view that ‘the moment a person becomes permanent he stops working’ does have plenty of reason to be so common! Those paid to do any work, if they do any work, often appear to be doing it under duress or at least clearly wishing they did not have to be doing it. So great is the aversion to actually working that it is common to hear people praise jobs where ‘pay is good but work is not hard.’

So why exactly is not working seen as better than working? Why would one deprive oneself of the satisfaction of becoming good at something, of being successful (and useful), of achieving results or a reputation? I think the reason is that these are precisely the things that most people in such positions can’t hope for. That is why for them, doing nothing is perhaps a better option.

Maybe a whole sociological / psychological / some-other-cal inquiry is needed to find out the underlying causes of this massive phenomenon. My amateurish take is that these people are in jobs that do not require them to think, take initiative or be responsible in any serious way. Their role is merely to follow instructions or – more commonly – pass on those instructions. Their chance of ever getting credit – is zero. Because there are no standards as to what it means to be ‘good’ in their work, they can never be appreciated or recognized or gain a real reputation.

So how do they respond? We know the answer…

The question for us: Is there any way in which shirkers can become workers? It might be simplistic but if we want to convert shirkers into workers we have to create conditions for success, where doing nothing is definitely worse than not working because it so clearly deprives you of so much that is so much more valuable! We need to think on the following:
  •        Clarify where professional decisions must be taken by each ‘level’ of person
  •        Identify standards of doing any task/job ‘well’ – so that it becomes possible for people to take pride in doing something well
  •        Instead of relationships based on instructions, how about developing partnerships

This naturally seems idealistic, but one great thing is that this is one of those efforts that can begin at the top. Which means that instead of mobilizing masses, we need to convince a relatively smaller number of people. Once they do implement any of this, the results would speak for themselves.

The reason for my optimism? I’ve seen this work in far too many places to feel it can’t be done!