Sunday, April 8, 2007

Unit Two Reflection: Work Philosophy

If there is a common thread through all of the pieces of Unit Two from new hire to the assorted problems discussed this week, it is that people are complicated to an extent that is in many ways unproductive or at least problematic from an organizational perspective. Life impinges upon work more than work impinges upon life; from a personal perspective, this is absolutely right. My wife is more important to me than any job will ever be. Yet, I cannot say that to some employers without seeming like I need to reprioritize my life. To many of us revolutionaries and people who came through college doing work-study jobs like minding desks and the like, our potential employers' objection to this philosophy seems gloriously unfair in many ways.

As a manager, though, what choice do we have? Work is not inherently motivating unless it is ridiculously interesting, and even then the amount of work required or expected of a person in America nowadays is so high that a person cannot possibly get it all done through internal motivation. So organizations must exploit a number of tools in order to get the most they can out of their employees. A narrow view of this need for getting the most leads to an extremely large number of rules, regulations, locked down workstations, very small rewards policies, and attempts at morale boosting that cannot interfere with productivity and therefore are in many cases doomed to failure because they cannot take root. This same narrow view treats restrictions on the organization, whether they are sick days in the employee's contract or affirmative action policies, as nuisances that should be avoided. In many cases, this is the same way that employees treat work.

I suppose I am an idealist in many ways, but I prefer to think of getting the most out of employees as a broader process and a broader thing in general. Truly happy employees feel as though they are judged and assessed on the body of their work; and they feel that this assessment is positive. They work because they have a desire to give back to the organization, and because they believe the organization is to some extent doing things for them. In my own experience, the best thing an organization can do for its employees is leave them some rope. In certain situations, like assembly-line work and call-center work, leeway is difficult to give and must almost be creatively invented. In a library setting, trusting employees to work in their own way seems to work better; the retention rate is high, and it is not just because the job market is bad.

In either the narrow or the broad view, though, some things are simply necessary for organizational success. Clear lines of sight and oversight on disciplinary matters, and clearly delineated policies of actions that are out-of-bounds and in-bounds as far as behavior, are essential to an organization almost regardless of its philosophy and general direction towards its employees. Organizations also need well-formulated evaluation processes, and especially those which allow even managers to be evaluated by those who are around them and affect them the most.

I am glad, for whatever it is worth, that I am entering librarianship as a profession. The professional literature seems almost obsessed in many ways with creating good organizations rather than extracting as much worth as possible. Perhaps this comes from the fact that the effectiveness of libraries is non-quantifiable. Perhaps libraries are more loyal to their employees than is regarded as efficient in the corporate sector. I do know that the organizations that are happiest also seem to provide the best community feeling to their employees, and that this extends to patrons and outward into the broader community; if a good that libraries provide is community, perhaps we can start by thinking about morale.

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