A cup of tea may be the best way to engage employees
People may come to dislike their jobs a little less but seldom learn to love them
Stephen Hester: “Shortly to be relieved of one of the best rewarded and most hateful jobs in the UK: running the Royal Bank of Scotland. ‘It’s been a very bruising and difficult job,’ he admitted last week. Yet instead of feeling happy to be out of it, disappointment was written all over his face.” Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Last week I met a professor of office design who talked excitedly about creating visionary spaces for people to work in and filling the air with the scent of fresh linen. After a bit, I protested that surely all we wanted from an office building was natural light and something relatively comfortable to sit on.
“It’s all very well for you to say that,” he snapped. “You don’t care about your surroundings because you love your job. Most people don’t love theirs.”
It is true that I do like my job. It’s also true that most people don’t like theirs. (I’m avoiding the word “love” here, let alone “passion”, as both are unseemly in an employee.)
Every week brings another survey telling how occupational dislike rules in offices. Last week there was a study showing that 77 per cent of UK workers felt they had chosen the wrong career. In the US, a recent report stated that only 19 per cent of workers professed themselves satisfied with their jobs.
This business of liking and not liking your work is the biggest gap between the haves and have-nots in the office, and affects how we feel about design – and everything else. Yet the division is rather mysterious – and quite unrelated to success or power or money.
Powerful people with vast salaries almost never like their jobs. What keeps their shoulders to the wheel is something much more dysfunctional.
‘I hate not winning’
Take Stephen Hester, shortly to be relieved of one of the best rewarded and most hateful jobs in the UK: running the Royal Bank of Scotland. “It’s been a very bruising and difficult job,” he admitted last week. Yet instead of feeling happy to be out of it, disappointment was written all over his face. As he confessed to the FT’s banking editor a week or so earlier: “I hate not winning. I hate it.”
It’s easy to conclude that the mass disliking of professional jobs is a modern affliction.
You could say it is a result of jobs being too stressful – and of expectations being too high. The more people are told that jobs should be stimulating and meaningful, the more distasteful they find whatever mundane, repetitive thing they pass their days doing.
But actually I don’t think it is a modern disease at all. It is something much more timeless: most people simply do not find being a wage slave – even a privileged, professional one – an especially enjoyable arrangement.