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Productivity Culture Has an Empathy Problem

Productivity Culture Has an Empathy Problem
The ability to delegate work is a form of privilege.


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Smarter Faster Better

Smarter Faster Better

As we struggle in the constant back and forth of e-mail, the pseudo-work invention from the 80s that have transformed work culture across the world, it’s hard not to feel as if we are just being productive for the sake of it.

Today’s productivity culture does not take into account real-world factors, like not having anyone to delegate stuff we don’t want to do, or cannot do.




Essential Stuff

According to the author Greg McKeown, if we try to give ourselves more time for our self-care and essential activities, that only benefit us, people are bound to be disappointed. By making more time for what’s “essential” in your life, you’re necessarily going to disappoint other people.

The tips and tricks provided by most productivity articles gloss over the fact that people are not treated fairly, equally and are not of the same type. They are complex humans, not computer terminals.



Different People, Different Expectations

The productivity technique like blocking a few hours for no-distraction ‘flow’ work sounds doable for one kind of person but may be interpreted as laziness or hostility when implemented by someone with a different race or gender.



The Culture Of Perfectionism

We are losing empathy, patience and compassion due to our obsession with productivity and self-improvement, as it is giving rise to a culture of perfectionism. Adding to this mix is the infinite choices out there, driving our mind to a toxic, perfectionist state.

We are increasingly blind to others needs in our pursuit of working better, smarter and faster and squeezing every drop of productivity out of our limited time.



Inclusive Productivity

Optimizing our life and time should not be at the expense of those who eventually get to do the ‘small-time’ routine tasks that reinforce the wage gap. It promotes the gig-work economy and makes the less fortunate work for it, as they feel it is an easy way to earn a few bucks.

Inclusive Productivity is when we recognize this imbalance and understand the larger systems at work, ensuring others also can do the stuff that is essential to them.




Our culture of work

Our culture claims that work is unavoidable and natural. The idea that the world can be freed from work, wholly or in part, has been suppressed for as long as capitalism has existed.

Exploring the abolition of work

  • In 1885, socialist William Morris proposed that in the factories of the future, employees should work only four hours a day.
  • In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that advances in technology would lead to an age of leisure where people might work 15 hours a week.
  • Since the early 2010s, these ideas have been developed further, creating a growing critique of work as an ideology, and exploring alternatives to work.
  • Post-work offers enormous promises: In a life of much less work, life would be calmer, more equal, more communal, more pleasurable, more thoughtful, more politically engaged, more fulfilled.

Work ideology

The work ideology is not natural nor very old.

  • Before the modern era, all cultures thought of work as a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  • Once the modern work ethic was established, working patterns started to shift. Between 1800 and 1900, the average working week shrank from 80 hours to 60 hours, and in the 1970s to roughly 40 hours.
  • In 1979, Bernard Lefkowitz related in his book that people who had given up their jobs reported feelings of "wholeness." During the same period, because wages were high enough, it became possible for most people to work less.
  • During the 80s, work ideology was reimposed by aggressively pro-business governments who were motivated by a desire for social control.
  • By the early 21st century, the work culture seems inescapable.

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    Job searching: Consider the company's culture

    Job searching: Consider the company's culture

    When you want to work for a company, its culture might be the most important thing to consider during your search.

    Culture refers to an organization's shared beliefs and values

    A company's culture: scour the internet for evidence

    A company's culture can be found online. Companies will have a mission, vision, and culture statement available online. Job seekers should pay attention to the nuances of language.

    • Pay attention to how postings are written. The wording can reveal beliefs and priorities. For example, perks like happy hours may indicate a lack of work-life balance.
    • Use a gender bias decoder. Job descriptions that focus on words like competitive, dominant, or leader may lower female candidates' responses.
    • Check out job review boards like Glassdoor. Reading anonymous reviews from current and former employees will give you insight.
    • Do some digging on social media. Scroll back to times of controversy or uncertainty to see how they reacted to social movements, civil unrest, racism, or public health matters.

    Job searching: going beyond the common interview questions

    Whether your interview is in-person or virtual, prepare specific questions to get more detailed answers on the culture. For example:

    • When someone drops the ball on a project, how does your team handle it?
    • When there is a conflict cross-functionally, how do people sort it out?
    • When people are working remotely, how does the company ensure there is a sense of community?

    Knowing how a company answered specific questions (even if they responded vaguely) will give you a better idea of what to expect if you accept the offer.

    Building routines for the non-work parts of the day

    When you have a pre-existing routine, it’s easier to fit work into it when it arises.

    If you’re working from home on a regular basis, it’s good to...

    Routines reduce mental fatigue

    They tell your brain what’s expected of it:

    • They reduce decision fatigue and that fight-or-flight stress that can get in the way of taking action.
    • They help you cultivate the “flow” state that leads to radical productivity.

    Work structure

    Develop a reserve of cues that tell your brain it’s time for work and outline a structure you can tap into whenever you need to get down to business.

    For example, work from the same place (and do nothing but work there) or listen to the same music or background noise.