Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Busywork Might Bankrupt Your Employer

"Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing."
- Thomas Edison

Te term busywork likely came along after Edison's time. However the concept would not have fully developed until a little before his lifetime. Before Edison's time, people had to produce or they would starve or be fired from their work because production could be measured by product produced or mission completed.

The concept of busywork reached its peak in Soviet bloc countries and their allies, where the saying became popular "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." What workers perceived as being significant was that they appeared to be doing something when the boss came along. The fact that little was accomplished mattered not because the boss likely didn't do much either except to obstruct the process so that nothing could be done efficiently.

People tend to care less about the quality of their work and the financial success of their employer when the product of their work brings them no reward other than a pay cheque. In larger companies, the work ethic sometimes develops where employees work for their cheque.

This situation reached it peak in western countries during the 1970s when workers in automobile manufacturing plants demanded huge raises, to which the companies agreed, but their production couldn't increase to meet the added cost. In that case, even conscientious workers who were more interested in their pay cheque than in the benefits their employer received from their production cost their employers dearly. (Today US auto makers can't afford the cost of pensions that resulted from those high wages.)

"Seeming to do," as Edison put it, is the best way to put yourself out of work because the employer always suffers financially. The demise of the Soviet empire is the world's greatest example.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put the important things in life into perspective.
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