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Working Hard or Hardly Working?

October 18, 2011

Seth Godin long ago raised the topic of hard-work vs. long-work and periodically revisits the conversation.  We’ve also seen discussions around the concept of fake work vs. real work. Last summer, Brent Peterson, one of the authors of Fake Work, spoke at a local ASTD chapter meeting and interesting discussions ensued.  As I recently came across my notes from the meeting, I got to thinking anew about this topic.

With the advent of technology and working smarter, it would seem logical that many of us would be able to refine our tasks and offload some of the time-draining (yet not value-added) duties that we’ve taken on over the years.  Yet why do we continue to run into talented employees who still occupy their workdays with mind-numbing inefficient chores?  How can we remove the burdens of low-value/no-value work and increase our collective productivity, ramp-up our enjoyment at work, and boost our organizations’ performance?


One of the reasons I’ve had this on my mind lately is because we’ve been implementing a new end-to-end HCM/Payroll system in my organization.  Part of this process has been to review the operational tasks that have seemingly become memorialized in the daily/weekly work of our staff.  What have we discovered?

  • Over the years there has been a tendency to ‘layer-on’ additional steps rather than strip down a process to its core, question its inherent value/desired results, and redesign a better process
  • Busy tasks, which are often easy and mindless, can be somewhat comforting when one likes a sense of satisfaction at the end of the work week (“check mark – task done!”)
  • The reasons for adding a task 15 years ago made sense, yet when the organizational requirement (and its accompanying alignment with strategy) for the task changed or was eliminated, the message never trickled down to all employees.  So chores continued and were never reviewed or questioned.

End result?  Lots of fake work, and to some degree long-work, had crept into our world.

So we cleaned it up and stripped stuff away.  And have a renewed sense of purpose to align all of our work to our organizational strategy.


As I mentioned, I had the opportunity to hear Brent Peterson discuss this topic last year and there were four lessons I had jotted down and found in my recently-surfaced notes:

(1) – Leaders must make sure that execution is in alignment with a clearly-communicated organizational strategy.  If the right things aren’t being done there is no value.

(2) – Managers/supervisors must see to it that real work tasks (not fake work tasks) are the most critical priorities for employees and must use these elements to evaluate and manage performance.

(3) – Teams will function optimally and relationships will flourish when shared purposes are understood and in alignment with real work.  If this is not done, the burdens (and limited outcomes) of fake work will cause teams to wither and die.

94) – Individuals will have greater job satisfaction and engagement if they fully understand their real work tasks and how that work is aligned to company strategy. 

If innovative and stimulating work leads to enjoyment at our jobs – let’s free ourselves up and get rid of the long, fake, busy work.

Now who’s with me?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2011 8:06 am

    I have to agree. I worked for multiple Big Accounting Firms and the Big 4 Specifically create lots of Fake Work. They eventually charge their clients for fake work too which makes it even worst.

    Then eventually upper management has more work because they have to monitor the fake work tasks. So it becomes a chain reaction into having less of a life and living for the firm like zombies when 60% of the work are things that really don’t add to the efficiency or effectiveness of the firm.

    I think so many people that are employees are so use to just getting things done. If they have a checklist where they can show everyone else that they did something more even worst.

    It will take a lot of time to change these behaviors but the ones that can overcome those hurdles will come out with better processes and perform better over time. Plus there employees will be happier.

  2. October 19, 2011 8:55 am

    I have a friend that adjusting to a process change because there was too much facebook and tweeting going on at work. Now the EE’s are busy and they hate it. But its the right thing to do, you want productive work forces.

  3. October 19, 2011 3:28 pm

    Robin, I couldn’t agree more. At the agency I work for, we have unlimited PTO, they trust us…and I see more hard work (and do more) than ever before. When an organization trusts its employees to be adults and work to be better at their jobs, it seems to pay off in a big way. I’m constantly amazed with the “final products” of everyone here…

    When I compare my work experience with that of my friends and family – where 14 days of PTO are only given if you’re on the Executive Team, Dr. appts mean taking 1/2 a day of PTO and even salaried employees are required to clock in and out…let’s just say our happy hour conversations are VERY different. “I can’t believe it’s not FRIDAY yet, how much more time can I possibly waste?” is something I’ve never had to say.

    When companies start to appreciate hard work vs. long work, that’s when the change will start to shift…For right now, though…it seems people who putz around and stay until 6:30 every day at companies like the ones mentioned above are rewarded, when employees who work efficiently are punished by having to “occupy themselves” for the 351 days they DON’T get to take vacation for…even if there’s not much work to be done.


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