Work Isn’t Working But We Know It Could

A new survey tells a sad story about office work. Most office workers have hundreds of grievances that annoy them.

Colleagues speaking loudly on the phone, parking badly in the car park, and your favorite mug being used by someone else all annoy. Body smells, breath smells and lunch smells irritate, diet bores who talk constantly about food, and being copied into too many mails, and bosses of course. The list goes on. While many respondents admit they let little things get to them, most people do nothing about the things that irritate them.

On the one hand people claim to have “hundreds of grievances” and on the other they aren’t going to do anything about them. There’s a funny thing about many human beings: above everything else, we are determined to be in the right. If other people and organisations, are in the wrong, so be it; that bolsters our case that we must be in the right. Of course, this works only until our grievances are resolved. When they’re fixed, others may not be in the wrong, which means we might be. Somehow, we hang on to our grievances. As if we’re saying, “Grievances, you can’t take them away from me!”


Of course, we are relieved when someone fixes something. But it may go wrong anytime and probably will. And anyway, we still have hundreds of grievances left. So we don’t change our deeper point of view: work is not working.

The trait many people found most annoying of all in the Brooke’s survey, which marks World Donkey Week, was never admitting they were wrong. How does that work? If they never admit they are wrong, there’s likely to come a point where they imply I am wrong. And that will be difficult.

This is a proxy for something deeper: we need to be in the right when we are scared of being wrong, and we’re scared of being wrong when we believe we will be blamed. What can we do about this? We could say things like “I don’t know”, “I’m probably mistaken”, “I got that wrong”, in other words we could be more honest. We could make it cool to be wrong.

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