Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: No Schedules, No Meetings, No Joke--the Simple Change That Can Make Your Job Terrific

You anxiously look at your watch as the traffic creeps forward - 8:55am. There's no way you'll get to the office by 9, you still have 10 miles to go. When you finally do arrive at 9:15, you try to sneak to your desk unnoticed, but your boss is already there. "So nice of you to join us this morning," he greets you, a "do it again and you're fired" look on his face. You sit down at your desk, still a little too agitated to start work quite yet, so you read your favorite news site for ten minutes. Part of you resigns to this life, believing it's the way things are, and nothing will change, but another part of you feels that there must be a better way.

That second part is right. There is a better way.

Former Best Buy employees Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson (now owners of CultureRx) share their experience of transforming Best Buy's corporate culture from the traditional clock-watching to a Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE, and how ROWE can work for other companies. The idea seems counterintuitive, at first, especially to those entrenched in traditional corporate culture and politics, but as Cali and Jody start breaking down the obstacles and overcoming objections, the idea starts to make sense. Give people control over their time, allow them to work when and where they're most productive, and grade them on their results, and instead of slacking and decreased productivity, they'll reward the company with increased performance, increased satisfaction, and lower voluntary turnover.

Why is it that the results seem counter to what managers fear? Because it's what everyone already does...just not at work. When we do our household work, we don't deal with politics, we don't "look like" we're doing something, we are doing things. We "grade" ourselves on whether the work gets done or not. The laundry either gets washed or put away, or it doesn't. The dishes make it into the dishwasher or they don't. We do all this stuff on the weekends or after work and don't really think about it, nor do we really get burnt out from doing the usual "home-life" stuff we need to do on a regular basis, and we can do this because we have control over our time, so we can use it as we see fit. This doesn't happen at work, because at work, we're not in control of our time. If we get done with our work without filling up our required 40 hours, then we either have to find more work to do, or we have to look busy. Going home and enjoying the rest of the day or week is out of the question.

Why Work Sucks goes into detail about this problem, known as presenteeism, and how costly it is to companies. When an employee has a set amount of work and has to fill a 40-hour week with it, there's no incentive to work efficiently beyond keeping it from taking more than 40 hours (and even that upper limit is questionable). The book also addresses the underhanded comments, such as "nice of you to join us," which it calls "Sludge." It explains that while on the surface and on an individual basis, these comments seem harmless, but not only do they add up, they are also designed to keep us "in line" with the corporate culture of clock watching.

Think about it, how often have you or someone you know called in sick, just so you didn't have to explain to your boss about the accident on your primary route? Or how about making a "socially acceptable" excuse because you had a hard time sleeping the night before and didn't want to get out of bed? Or any other number of stories you've lined up to tell your boss or coworkers for whatever reason why you were late coming in or early to leave or didn't make it in at all? How often have you feared that you'd be looked down on even if your real reason is a "socially acceptable" reason for missing or shortening your day? How many times have you come into work sick, or felt guilty about staying home when sick? These are all a result of Sludge and the corporate clock-watching culture.

ROWE, however, asks "why does the clock matter so much? The work itself is what matters," and that's the basis for ROWE — it doesn't matter how, when, or where the work gets done, as long as it gets done (assuming, of course, the means are legal and the work is done before any applicable deadlines). Does it really matter if Sally chooses to do her work in a coffee shop from 5pm to 2am, or that Dave does his from 6am to 11am at home, then some more from 3pm to 6pm at the park? If the work is getting done and is up to standards, then the answer is simple, it doesn't matter.

One of the best parts about the ROWE concept is that it's not just theory, it's in practice in Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies, as well as others. ROWE is already working for these companies, and these success stories provide leverage for implementing the system in even more companies. Taking a more creative look at the concept, on an individual level, working in a ROWE is not unlike working as a freelancer, except that a ROWE employee has the stability of an established company.

In all, Work Sucks is a must-read for anyone who knows that there must be a better way, as well as those who feel that the way things are is good enough (in other words, everyone in any kind of corporate environment). Even if your company can't fully implement a true ROWE, it can probably make use of a lot of the advice it offers.