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I am not a machine so why does this organization treat me like one?

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance by Tony Schwarz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy, PhD. Simon & Schuster New York 2010.

The great majority of the points or tips in this book will be very familiar to you. However, you will not have heard them phrased so precisely, stated so urgently or placed in so compelling a context as the framework in this book lays out. The truth is we have known since childhood that it is a good idea to get enough sleep, to eat sensibly, to exercise regularly, to pay attention and to know who we truly are ­ values, warts and all. Many of us will remember Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs from psychology class. Most of us have probably given some thought to the compelling drive to move up the ladder from basic safety to spiritual quest. We know that it¹s important to address every stage in our personal development if we want to meet our own special challenges.

Why do we pay only lip service to those physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual cravings so much of the time. Specifically, why do we put the whole deck of needs in the drawer when we sit down at our desks to sip that first morning cup of office coffee? It¹s about mindset and not thinking. When we work we can¹t afford to spend the time or energy to consciously consider the structure or processes of our work minute by minute. We need rituals to organize the bits of the day. We have our meeting face, our email rhythm, a range of plodding persistent behaviors to take us through the hours. While there is more variety than the assembly line generally presents, most of these office rituals are not only automatic, they are also pretty mechanistic. They are geared to expectations of the workplace as machine.

Schwarz and his co-writers remind us we aren’t machines and it’s foolish to try to work as if we were. Like any healthy species, humans perform best when they concentrate their energies for effectiveness and interlace daily periods of productive activity with planned recovery both active and passive. You should, for example, take a power nap during work hours. You might need a walk after a difficult meeting or consider meditation before reading a demanding document. Anger and criticism, however much circumstances seem to call for them, conjure up destructive hormones, weaken your resilience and wreck the interpersonal environment you need for support. The science is in to support your mother’s admonitions. Sleep deprivation is downright dangerous and excessive calorie intake throws off all the cycles you must respect to be at your optimum. You have to use your whole brain to stay both creative and sharp. According to Tony Schwarz et al, the CEO should be called the chief energy officer. Tony’s New York based team has organized themselves under a banner they call The Energy Project.

Recognizing our human and animal needs on the job makes great sense. Nevertheless there’s lots of resistance. In the book we are reminded that habit and culture are necessarily unconscious. It takes effort and therefore more up front energy expenditure to consciously change; that doesn’t look very efficient. This theory is quite plausible and considering the emerging needs of our knowledge economy it behooves us to get past the awkward transition stage to greater productivity. More power to the Energy Project people for seeing that. Yet speaking of power, my suspicion is that there is also an organizational power agenda that stands in the way of full attention to the natural workaday needs of the average cubicle dweller. Take away the familiar structure and the coercive levers of the traditional office environment and where does management accountability go? What will it cost? We know that the way we’re working isn’t really working, but not many really want to be the first to chance the change.

 
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