February 27, 2020

Read more On the Margins in the archive.

Work, ugh: Part I

Work in this day and age is nearly inescapable. Virtually all of us carry devices connecting us to our colleagues or clients every hour of the day anywhere in the world.

Furthermore, many people are allowed to work anywhere, from their homes to coffee shops to the beach! Why would anyone work at the beach? Speaking of the beach, many people struggle to not work on vacation. In other words, when we have free time from work, we still choose to… work.

It’s no wonder that there’s been infinite ink spilled on how to make all that time spent at work less awful. Many times they’re filled with seemingly obvious tips like:

  1. Focus = productivity
  2. Taking a walk is a good time to think.
  3. Connect with people over a few laughs.

Aren’t you glad the Wall Street Journal is here to tell us these things?

We’ve all gotten so preoccupied with working that we forget what it means to be a person who doesn’t check their email all weekend. Also, I’m not saying your co-workers have to be your friends, but at least treat them like someone you might like to be a friend.

Would you ask a potential friend to endure a 30-slide presentation? No, you would not. You’d ask them to get coffee because you’re not a monster.

All I’m saying is that if you want your workday to be better, then spend at least a little time doing more of the things you enjoy and less of the things you don’t. If we’re going to be working so much, we at least owe it to ourselves to not be miserable.

Work, ugh: Part II

Yes, like many of you, I work in an office with people. We talk to each other every day about personal and professional matters, and I am friends or friendly with many of them.

However, because we are in a professional environment, there’s an expectation that the communication has a certain tone, tact, and language. This language is continuously evolving, which is why “disruption” or “thinking outside the box” now sound cliche, but when someone talks about “core competencies” or “sequencing” people nod sagely along.

You can probably see where I’m going with this, but I’ll just say it: I find corporate buzzwords annoying. I do my best to avoid them in this newsletter and in life, but it’s harder when I’m talking to colleagues because sometimes it’s the most efficient way to say something. But also:

At work, people are paid to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do in their leisure time. They don’t dress at the office the way they do at home; they don’t act at the office the way they do outside of it; and they don’t talk about drilling down and rightsizing around their friends. Buzzwords mark the boundary of work life, broadcasting “I’m working!” in much the same way an Ann Taylor getup does. They allow workers to relate to one another—the much-decried “synergy” is an important part of a lot of people’s jobs, after all.

That’s from The Atlantic, and hoo boy, that is my catnip. I do have to work in a place of business, but I still find myself wishing that I could talk to my colleagues like I talk to my friends. And in some private conversations, I do. But I work with enough strangers and people whose cup of tea I am not, that I reign it in most of the time.

Unfortunately, the way to reign it in is to use, as they say in Westeros, the Common Tongue. It just so happens that the Common Tongue in the business world has loathsome expressions like “I’ll circle back with you,” and “quick wins,” and the insufferable “it is what it is.” Oh, is it? Good grief.

“If you find corporate buzzwords annoying, it’s probably because you find work annoying,” an “Internet linguist” is quoted as saying, and—do me a favor, don’t tell anyone—YES. All I want is to get up, take my kid to school, write, get coffee with a friend, have lunch, read a bit, and then take a nap. That’s it. Essentially all the things from Part I. I’m not asking for the moon here.

Work, ugh: Coda

Don’t misunderstand: I have a good job, and I enjoy it. Love it even. What I know with absolute certainty is that many people do not love their jobs, and that is unfortunate.

We work because it fulfills us in ways that other things don’t. We find something that we’re good at, and we get to do it and either someone pays us, or we pay people to help us do those things. That’s all pretty exciting.

What’s terrible is that in the process we’ve created norms and cultures that suck the life out of people and make them focus on things they don’t want to do (i.e., managing instead of doing) or forget what they loved about work in the first place. That’s the real tragedy of modern business. We have a lot of cool tools to use to do a lot of cool things, so the future should be exciting—but unfortunately, a lot of us are screwing it up, and that makes the future look pretty bleak.

Can accountants change that? It’s not that far-fetched. If you’re advising businesses, then you’re probably talking to them about how to compete for talent. We’ve talked before about how this is a hard thing to do because small businesses don’t have the resources to offer high-end salaries and benefits. And while compensation is a factor in creating great workplaces, it’s not the only factor.

For business owners who need an objective sounding board to piece together the factors that will build a business where employees can stay motivated and thrive, who better than you, accounting professional person?

Fresh from Gusto

My colleague Will Lopez wrote about 3 bad habits that accountants need to break if they’re going to survive the next decade.

Web learnin’

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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