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Focus on how you work, not why

Why does modern work feel so dissatisfying? Are we making the mistake of searching for the ‘why’ of modern work when we’re desperately in need of answering ‘how’?


If we were inventing jobs today, we’d struggle to come up with something engineered to be as dissatisfying as employment in the early 21st Century. Endless meetings where we start to forget our own name and emails that seem identical to those we got rid of yesterday, all done against the drone of vast open-plan offices.


I’ve spent the last two years researching and writing a book about improving the modern workplace culture – and what I observed was a shocking reminder of what needs fixing.


The challenges with modern workplaces go beyond distraction into something more substantial. The Mental Health Foundation says that 74% of Brits felt overwhelmed by stress at some point last year, with work being the biggest cause.

现代工作场所面临的挑战不仅仅是注意力分散,还有一些更重要的问题,是现实存在的考验。英国心理健康基金会(Mental Health Foundation)表示,去年有74%的英国人感到压力过大,其中最主要的原因是工作。

It’s no wonder. Since we all started taking emails on our mobile phones the average working day has lengthened by two hours. By some estimates, workers who are expected to stay connected to their colleagues are clocking up over 70 hours plugged into the office each week. Half the people who add a couple of extra hours to the working day clock up the highest recordable levels of stress.


That’s why the exhortations of self-declared visionaries like Simon Sinek seem to be increasingly hitting a bum note with those in the workplace.

这就是为什么像斯涅克(Simon Sinek)这样自诩高见的梦想家的劝告,似乎越来越契合上班族的心思。

When ‘why’ isn’t enough


Sinek achieved fame and recognition from his insistence that millennials needed to understand the ‘why’ of work before they could commit themselves to the endeavours involved. “Great companies don't hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them,” Sinek declared.


Inspiration took the form of telling them ‘why’ they were doing the job. But it’s becoming clear that this singular focus on a north star of ‘purpose’ is creating dissonance and dissatisfaction on the shop floor.


Workers of all ages are faced with reconciling the ultimate ‘first world problem’: “How can I be working at this noble, purpose-driven organisation and still not feel happy?”


An increasing number of employers are seeing their workers take them to task on the disparities between what was promised to them as candidates and the realities of their jobs. The Google walkout in 2018 followed Susan Fowler’s Uber blog post as another high-profile milestone on a long road of workplace discontent despite lofty answers to the ‘why’ question.

越来越多的员工发现到,求职之前和得到工作之后的实际情况之间有很大的差距。优步(Uber)前雇员福勒(Susan Fowler)通过发布长篇博客,控诉公司员工性骚扰。随后,2018年,世界各地的谷歌员工举行大罢工。尽管职员知道他们需要工作,但是他们对工作环境感到不满,求索之途路漫漫,这又是一座备受瞩目的里程碑。

It’s becoming obvious that while focusing on the ‘why’ of work might create a compelling vision for a warrior CEO to stand behind, that doesn’t help the workers feeling crushed with fatigue at their desks. Increasingly it’s feeling like it’s time for us to move from the adrenalised bravado of ‘why’ to the comparatively mundane discussion of ‘how’: ‘How can I feel more fulfilled and less anxious in my job?’


The power of small changes


What does the ‘how’ of improved work culture look like? While it’s certain that there will be no Steve Jobs of the workplace unveiling the newer, shinier version of employment, it’s becoming clear that we can personally make changes to the design of our day that can help make work less awful.

改进的工作文化是什么样子的?虽然可以肯定的是,公司里肯定没有像乔布斯(Steve Jobs)那样的人,展现更新更好的工作风格,但显然,我们可以从个人的角度改变我们每天的工作,让工作一事也因此不那么糟糕了。

Once workers accept that ‘how’ is important, many of us feel energised by the realisation that we have the autonomy to initiate change. The biggest burden of work for most of us is that cursed time spent in meetings. The simple act of halving the number of people present can be an act of mercy.


Investment bankers Bridgewater Associates realised that having fewer people in meetings seemed to be highly effective at improving the quality of discussions. The challenge, of course, was that we’re convinced that the meeting we’re not in is the one where all the good stuff is happening. To prove that this FOMO was misplaced, they started recording all their meetings – with the end result that no one complained when they were stood down from the attendee list.

布里奇沃特投资公司(Bridgewater Associates)意识到,减少与会的人数,这对于提高例会的质量卓有成效。当然,我们面临的挑战是,我们认为我们没有列席的会议是有好事情发生的会议。为证明这种生怕错过的顾虑(FOMO)是不恰当的,他们开始记录所有的会议——最终结果是,当他们从与会者名单上被除名时,没有人抱怨。

There are other things: workers are increasingly aware that taking a proper lunchbreak three or four times a week is proven by research to improve decision making and reduce the Friday fatigue that plagues so many of us.


Going further, borrowing the Swedish tradition of fika by taking a walk with a colleague as part of a routine to get our daily dose of caffeine appears to have positive effects. It makes us less email weary and refreshes our minds as we close out the working day.


In fact, the science of walking can even be extended to switching meetings from sedentary to mobile occasions. Stafford scholar Marily Oprezzo found that walking improved creative thinking for 81% of those she tested.

事实上,步行的科学甚至可以延伸到例会中去,从久坐不动的案头洽谈,变为灵活的移动场景。斯塔福德学者奥普雷佐(Marily Oprezzo)通过实验发现,81%的受访者表示,散步能提高创造性思维。

Introducing a new meeting to the calendar might seem heretical when we’re trying to declutter the working week, but the power of social meetings is gaining currency – perhaps replacing the human synchronisation that many British workplaces used to derive from an adjournment to a local pub.


Five-time CEO Margaret Heffernan described her introduction of a weekly social meeting at one of her US-based firms as “absolutely transformational” for the working culture. Heffernan observed that encouraging workers to spend time socialising with each other in the working day made them more likely to collaborate during the rest of the week.

曾经五次担任CEO的赫夫南(Margaret Heffernan)说,她在自己的一家美国公司开了每周一次的社交会议,这对公司的工作文化来说是“绝对具有颠覆意义”。她观察到,鼓励员工们在工作日花时间相互交流,使他们在一周的其余时间能更好的合作。

Workplaces are beset with the hurry sickness that is a consequence of the relentless demands of modern work – and the impact of that burn-out can be hard, especially on the most junior workers. When work is unrelenting, a focus on the lofty goal of ‘why’ we work won’t help, maybe right now we need to take care of ‘how’.

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