Over 17 years in digital jobs, I have experienced many times when I’m good at something in my job and not allowed to pursue it fully. In good.simple.open, a chapter called “Don’t be a butt in a seat and don’t hire butts for seats” addresses this issue. In that chapter, I talk about the experience when we’re good at something and assigned to do something related but not the thing we’re good at. I say, “Not wanting to do a job you’re not interested in is not a mark of a bad attitude or laziness. It is a sign that you know what you’re good at and you want to do good work.”
What we’re interested in, we become good at and what we’re good at, we are interested in. So there are great reasons for employers to give us more of the work we’re good at.
- It keeps us engaged. We work more intensely on what we’re interested in.
- It produces better work. Because we’re more stimulated by that in which we’re interested, we produce better results. Our minds aren’t wandering because we’re stuck in a task we find boring. We’re focused on the work we’re doing.
- It provides new benefits for employers. When employees find that niche where their interests, skill, and a business need exist, the employer gains a huge benefit. Sometimes it’s new revenue. Sometimes it’s an expanded skill set they can offer to clients.
Here are two examples from my work history.
1. At one job, I was hired as a front-end developer. We worked in .NET applications. I handled HTML and CSS all day. But we kept having client requests for blogs and I said to the bosses, let’s do this in WordPress; I already know it and love it. When the head boss finally dropped his opposition to all things open source, it immediately created a new revenue stream. He had an expert in WordPress building the sites his clients wanted. But he didn’t want to pay for an administrator of the new server so that became my full-time job and working in WordPress was secondary.
2. At another job as a content manager, I noticed that our news section was rarely and poorly updated. Hey, I love writing posts, following stories, and interviewing people. But I had to fight for the time and opportunity to do those things. The job didn’t want a guy writing news all the time despite the fact that after two years, I could prove my modest improvements to the news section were bringing more traffic and attention to the site.
In both of those positions, I was a butt in a different seat that the management didn’t want vacated. But why not?
One reason is that managers often get caught in the bureaucracy themselves. They’re forced to think in-the-box so much (even if they’re asking for out-of-the-box) that they don’t know how to handle the out-of-the-box suggestions. Another reason is that they just don’t appreciate what we do and what of that has meaning to us.
This leads me to a question a friend of mine suggested in her (non-digital) job:
Why don’t bosses know what we do?
In my experience, across different jobs and industries, bosses seem quite ignorant of the actual tasks their employees handle every day. Sure, the worker bees are often ignorant of what the boss does but that’s no rationale for continuing that behavior. Jobs that emphasize transparency and openness are less likely to build up those ignorant walls.
From all the conversations I’ve had with co-workers and friends, bosses / managers / executives are so out of the loop on their employees’ work that they’re not responsive to the information that lets them know they have a problem. That again is a problem with having a closed culture.
What I’ve observed in these situations is bosses who think, “I’ve got other, more important things to handle.” That’s acceptable some of the time. But at what point in the disintegration of a team, does a boss stop what he’s doing and go, “maybe we need to change the status quo”?
I say, do it immediately. If a boss or manager doesn’t know what the tasks are that employees handle and enjoy every day, then that culture needs to be opened immediately. A culture of openness is a culture of communication. That communication has to be practiced by everyone in order to become effective.
Once a line of communication is open and all levels of the business know what everyone else is doing, it’s going to save time, money, and energy. Maybe that work that their employees really enjoy will create new leads and revenues. Maybe the managers will learn they’re wasting time developing business that their team can’t handle.
For sure, doing what Remote calls, “managing the chairs” is creating ignorant managers and frustrated employees.