Saturday, July 9, 2011

The all-you-can-eat employee

At the risk of sounding sensational in the title of this article, I wanted to spend a little time stepping through Part #2 of the unifying theory about workplace stress, presented in my previous post:

"2. When we agree to work for an organization as an 'employee', we agree to be paid more or less a fixed price, for an unspecified type and amount of labor."

Some of my previous posts have outlined in more detail how there is a disconnect between what we are paid in dollars and what value we actually create as employees of an organization. This is largely because the issue of "compensation" is increasingly dealt with as a separate topic from what our actual duties will be day-to-day as employees. In effect, this creates a work environment where we agree to a certain level of monetary compensation for our time, before we know what our time will be used for, and how much of it will be needed.

As consumers, we also engage in this same type of economic arrangement on a regular basis, whether we realize it or not. This situation will happen anytime we enter an all-you-can-eat restaurant, and shell out 15 to 30 bucks for endless plates of food (or at least until we cannot eat any more). The restaurant owner has agreed to let us pay them a fixed price, to consume an unspecified amount of their valuable resources (food).

Does this mean that as an employee, you are an all-you-can-eat buffet? To put it simply, yes! But there's a caveat to that assumption.. just as a buffet restaurant cannot serve Kobe beef every night and expect to stay in business, an employee cannot assume that they will magically be able to fulfill every demand that is placed on them from everybody who has access to their valuable time. That would be a disastrous assumption to make, since your own equivalent of "going of out business" is to become demotivated about your work and feel like you are no longer actively participating in the success of the organization.

Based on this analysis, what is the lesson learned here? To sum it up, as long as we will be participating in the type of economic arrangement described above (which shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon), it is only rational that we must critically evaluate every request for work that we receive, and deliver in such a way as to provide the most value to the organization with the least amount of effort involved. In effect, we must "cut corners" to keep ourselves in business, in a spiritual sense, in order to maintain as healthy a working relationship as possible in our environment.

Sometimes, this means that work will need to be delivered in ways that do not meet every requirement that was requested, but that meets the ones that provide the most positive impact to the organization. As employees, we should never feel ashamed of doing work this way, since we are simply trying to keep ourselves "in business" in order to continue to be sources of value for our organization.

Sometimes, cutting corners also means evaluating the opportunity costs of engaging in certain work, at the expense of other projects. This will happen frequently when other teams make requests on you to do some work that is valuable to them. Is it really worth the opportunity cost of not delivering value to your own team (whose budget, after all, provides your salary) ? You need to make that call every time.

Hope you have enjoyed this "food for thought" (pun intended).

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