For me, one of life’s great mysteries is the existence of workaholics. Let’s face it: With the exception of composing a great symphony, finding a cure for cancer, or selling used cars, the daily work most people are engaged in is just not all that engaging. Work as such is not the sort of thing normal, sentient human beings get addicted to.
Ordinary men and women do their work, perhaps cheerfully enough, primarily as a means to other ends such as putting food on the table, taking a vacation, or keeping a lover. Eating, playing, and having sex are, after all, the quintessential human activities that distinguish us from rocks and make us a life form.
Workaholism is common among managers and administrators of various types. Your average workaholic manager would pass up a lost weekend with Beyoncé/Viggo Mortensen in order to facilitate a series of workshops on the strategic plan. When workaholic managers refer to the F word, they mean “facilitate.”
The strategic plan is the workaholic manager’s hypodermic needle. Its main function is to inject enough chaos and inefficiency into the system to ensure an inexhaustible supply of work in its purest form: work that is devoid of all meaning and lacking any goal beyond itself.
Before the advent of the strategic plan, work in plants, factories, and offices everywhere was pretty much humming along as God intended. A strike here, a plant closure there, but everybody had a place in the natural order, and everything was called by its proper name. Coffee breaks, chats around the water cooler, and quitting time were all hallowed institutions.
But when workaholics became entrenched in key management positions, they began writing strategic plans, and the natural order became a Tinker-toy set. Underlying all strategic plans is a cardinal principle of workaholic management: meaningless name changes. A classic example is renaming the library the “learning resources center.” The office? The work station. Office supplies? Call them work station renewal units. Once renamed, a thing is referred to only by its acronym, as in the following memo:
“The OSI/O (Office of Strategic Inplacement/Outplacement, formerly the Personnel Office) regrets to inform all TPs (Team Players, formerly staff) that Norm Lipschitz has been OPed (outplaced, formerly laid off) and will be missed in the NECDC (Non-Electronic Communications Distribution Centre, formerly the Mail Room).”
Downsizing is really just a way to avoid paying long-term disability to large numbers of stressed-out workers who can’t take the pace, but workaholic managers really treasure those who remain. The really fun job of writing unintelligible memos on the current state of the strategic plan to a greatly reduced and overworked number of team players is what fills in the dead time on flights between management seminars and conferences. You’ve seen them in airports with their laptops.
We’re not losing jobs to globalization. There is a shortage of meaningful work out there because workaholic managers have been draining work of its meaning and using it as a drug. Ronald Reagan, probably the last non-workaholic to hold high elected office, would know how to tackle this crisis. Ronnie would take a nap. Nobody takes naps anymore.