What are some of the “issues” about various kinds of work?

The first thing that comes to mind is the inescapable fact that when you go to work for an organization and start accepting a paycheck from them, their priorities and values become yours. Obviously this may not actually happen in every case but the pressure is there: this is what they are paying you to do, to take on their values, priorities, and goals and help to accomplish them.

Douglas McGregor in The Human Side of Enterprise pointed out that people tend to want to do a good job (“Theory Y”) when their values are consistent with those of the organization employing them. I think it would be helpful if more people took this aspect of employment more seriously when considering various kinds of work and various job offers.

Some of my values-related conflicts at work first surfaced early in my working life when I was involved with the health care industry. (See I Won't Do this any More) But I also heard one of the funnier (to me, anyway) and most dramatic stories of someone adopting their employer’s values during this era.

I knew some people who worked for one of the big consumer products companies selling a variety of over-the-counter medications and products. One of these guys told me about his sales manager’s way of getting himself “psyched up” each morning before getting out to sell the product.

The product in question was a mouthwash product that, while apparently a perfectly fine product in its own right, had always been overshadowed in the marketplace by the more well-known brands. This man’s job, then, was to somehow build up the numbers in his territory and get the company’s mouthwash to start flying off the shelves.

Salesmen are told they must believe in the product if they are to sell it. Well, this fellow had this under control. His daily ritual consisted of opening the trunk of his car (where his samples lurked), opening a bottle of his company’s mouthwash, and using it exactly as intended. After swirling it around (savoring the bouquet, perhaps?) he would spit it onto the ground behind his car and loudly exclaim “That’s the best damned mouthwash in the world!”

Maybe a dork, maybe not ...

When I heard of this guy, my first reaction was “What a dork!” This was also pretty much the attitude of the people who worked for him as far as I could tell. But this was quite a few years ago and I’m re-thinking some of my earlier conclusions. He might have been a dork, true. But it’s also possible that he was really trying to do as good a job as he could for the company he worked for, and he realized that getting himself into a super positive frame of mind about the product would probably help. For that I would have to say I respect the guy, even if he did seem a bit odd.

But wait, maybe there’s even more. If he genuinely believed his company was doing good things for people’s health and he was glad to be part of that, more power to him. Chances are he had a long and enjoyable career with them. I think it’s equally possible, though, that this was “just a job” and he had figured out that his antics might mark him for promotion or otherwise catch the attention of upper management a bit sooner.

One thing I remember quite clearly about many sales meetings I attended (I worked in sales for several companies at different times in my career) was the sense that very few people in the room really gave a damn about what the company was doing or the products it was selling. They of course were glad when times were good and bonuses, higher commissions, etc. were paid, but for most of them I don’t think it mattered much what the company was doing. I thought then and I think now that it’s a heck of a shame to devote most of your waking hours to something that you really aren’t that concerned about one way or another.