Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Work and Identity

Here is Dan Ariely talking about work and identity from his new book The Upside of Irrationality:

Surprise! Ariely discovered "alienation" in the workplace demotivates people. His solution, industry should be sensitive to including motivation for the workers to counter this alienation.

My comment: it won't work. I never saw industry as being sufficient self-aware to notice alienation. Even if they saw it, they viewed workers as "tools" and if you exhausted one you simply got rid of that one and hired another. No need to cater to "human needs".

The first ten years of my career in the high tech industry had me watching others who moaned about the projects they were working on coming to nothing while I quietly felt self-satisfied that everything I had been involved in resulted in systems delivered to customers that actually were being used. But after that first ten years I graduated into the "big software" side of high tech, i.e. the billion dollar projects, and suddenly I too was seeing my efforts go for naught. Worse, these big projects would late 5 years or more. You were throwing away a significant chunk of your life. Needless to say, I found myself deeply alienated. So I moved into R&D which was small projects, fast turnaround, lots of learning. Sadly, most of what I worked on in R&D over 12 years was never used. But at least I was having fun and I was learning stuff. Even in R&D there was a nagging sense of alienation, the curse of modern enterprise.

The only efforts on the part of the company to "motivate" their employees was to give out "awards". But I saw the award process as seriously skewed by the fact that upper management only had visibility into lower management, not workers on the shop floor. So the "awards" invariably went to managers for "a job well done" and not to the actual people who did the work. Now that was seriously demotivating!

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