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What, exactly, is the point of your job?

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

This is not the sort of question arises from a feeling of superiority on my part, although I wouldn't put it past me. Rather, I genuinely wonder if some of us have any notion why a particular role, especially in the upper levels of business or, indeed, society, exists at all.

Again, I don't mean the question in the sense that those people are unqualified or redundant, but in the sense that, whilst the position itself surely has a point; do they really know what it is? Or how it should manifest itself in the workplace?

I am pretty certain that, if asked, many in management would offer answers very wide of the mark. Whether we know it or not, most job roles exist almost exclusively for the benefit of the job holder, not some altruistic ideal related to 'improving the world'.

We all know the Senior Manager of whom people often ask, "What exactly does he do?" Unfair? Maybe. Nearer the mark than some would like us to believe? I think so.

Take any Senior Manager, of any organisation: surely it is a given that they help maintain or improve some aspect of their employees' lives. And that may well be true to a certain extent for some. But that's not why they do it.

Let's be brutally honest - virtually every one of us goes to work to put bread on the table, and Management are no different. But one man's bread is another man's Bentley.

Once we get beyond the normal requirements of living a healthy, balanced life, what use are the trappings of success? On an individual level? What is being fed here? Not simply the belly, for sure. Status, probably. Ego, too, sometimes.

And it's nice to have nice things. Nobody would argue that in any seriousness. And some people work their socks off for years to get those things. I don't advocate some utopian communist ideal. But it has been said many, many times before that as we climb the career ladder, the rewards for success become outrageously disproportionate to the benefit derived from the effort put in.

'Ah, but I don't get paid for what I do, but for what I know'.

Therein lies the problem - there's a level of dishonesty in that statement that creates an itch somewhere deep within. Does what you know actually get used for the benefit of the organisation? And by organisation I mean the people in it. All of them.

That beautiful car, the piece of real estate or well-deserved holiday to the second home in Chamonix, always comes at someone else's expense. Business is a zero-sum game - there is only so much to go round, so if you get more, who gets less?

Hence my question - what is the point of you? Who are you helping, except yourself?

Given that most of the actual work in any organisation is done by the people at the coalface, surely it's only fair they should at least reap some of the benefits.

In reality, they are the ones that generally suffer soonest, and suffer most, when things go pear-shaped. Why on earth is that?

Wherever I work, I make a point of talking to the shopfloor staff. They are the ones that know how to improve things and get stuff done. 'Go to the Gemba' is as true now as it ever was.

And when I have these conversations, I often ask things like: 'When was the last time a Manager came and talked to you?' or 'When was the last time someone came and asked about how you are, how you're feeling?' You can imagine the answers that come up.

But it doesn't make sense. These are the people earning the money that keeps the company in existence. The Managers and Directors are there because of them, not in spite of them. So, again: what is the point of those Managers and Directors?

Of course, they absolutely fulfil a very necessary role in the organisation, but surely, some of the benefits accrued by the upper strata of the organisation should be put aside for those with most invested in the business - the workers.

I once consulted at a company and, after being there several weeks, I happened to be walking out of the building whilst talking to the Financial Director. Ordinarily, I would have entered and exited through the factory entrance, as it allowed me to get eyes on the shopfloor regularly. However, on this occasion, as I was mid-conversation, I continued walking with said FD through the main entrance.

"You shouldn't really come out through this door, by the way" he said.

"Sorry?" I said, wondering what possible defect in my character or appearance could prohibit me from using a perfectly operational door.

He gave a magnanimous smile and said "Obviously, it's ok this time, 'cos you're with me". Suffice to say, the next Board Meeting involved a discussion of low employee morale, and why it might exist.

There are some extremely gifted Managers in industry today, many of whom genuinely want the best for all of their colleagues, at all levels. But although well-meaning, most simply do not understand that their true value to the organisation lies, not in their skill at keeping things running, nor in their ability to fight fires, but in their understanding of the needs of the workforce and making sure those needs are met.

It has been statistically proven, time and again, that happy workers are more productive, so why not make that a goal? And if the culture in your organisation won't tolerate such an attitude, maybe the place to start making changes is not on the shopfloor.

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