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
The wisest self-help book ever, written in 1955 by Arnold Bennett, makes this point rather well. “The majority of decent average conscientious men of business . . . put not as much but as little of themselves as they conscientiously can into the earning of a livelihood, and . . . their vocation bores rather than interests them,” he wrote.
The book is How to Live on 24 Hours a Day and can be downloaded for nothing: I recommend you read it now.
But if you can’t be bothered, I can tell you that Bennett takes mild disaffection with work for granted: it’s entirely natural. He does not suggest looking for another job, or trying to improve the one we have.
The answer, he says, is for each bored worker to find something absorbing and improving to do in the hours that are spent neither working nor sleeping.
Some of the advice is a little outdated. Most of us will have difficulty relating to his suggestion that you get your manservant to leave out a tray with “two biscuits, a cup and saucer, a box of matches and a spirit-lamp” for an early-morning cup of tea to start you on your daunting reading. But otherwise the principle is utterly sound.
It is also utterly unfashionable.
The modern solution to the problem of disaffection is the “employee engagement” movement, where employers strive to make staff more involved in their work.
Through such admirable efforts, people may come to dislike their jobs a little less, but I doubt if they ever make the shift from dislike to its opposite.
Liking your job comes from three things, none of which employers can control.
It can come from within: some people are blessed with sunny temperaments that make the best of everything. It can come from liking the people you work with. Or it can come from the work itself.
Most people find it easier to like work that involves a craft of some sort. Writing is a craft, which is why I like it.
The professor was right about the dodginess of my judgment. Because I like my job I naturally wrinkle my nose at the idea of smells of fresh linen.
By contrast, Bennett spent many years bored rigid in “subservient positions in business” and so should be taken more seriously when he says: “The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea.”