How to fix a workplace that sucks

How often do you hear it? “Work sucks.” This week I‘ve heard it from academic colleagues, my mailman, my wife, my son and a host other of characters in my life.Needless to say, I was intrigued when a new version of a book hit my desk this week titled “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It,” by Cali Ressler and Jody Thomson. First published in 2008, this wonderful little book has come out in an expanded paperback format. It really gets you thinking.My intrigue with the book stems from a rising volume of literature that indicates that our families, our health and our productivity are suffering because of the disharmony that exists between our work lives and our personal lives. Americans are spending less time with their families, working longer hours and suffering more medical problems related to stress than ever in our history.In addition, research shows that we are becoming meaner to one another in work environments.Workplace bullying is at an all-time high and our workplaces are increasingly unhealthy. There are also indications that our spouses, children and friends are suffering from the effects of our work life.According to Ressler and Thomson, the basis of this “suckiness” can be found in the very culture we create around work: Endless meetings that aren’t productive; rigid schedules that don’t mesh with our personal lives and the needs of our families; and a variety of rules and policies that serve only to justify a worker’s existence and don’t contribute to the bottom line.Their solution? The Results Only Work Environment, or ROWE. The authors believe that, with the exception of those who must staff a sales floor or operate a machine, most “service” jobs should be performed in an environment where the only question that matters is, “Did this person get results?”Obvious benefitsIn the work world of “no suck,” there’s no concept of sick or vacation time, no tardiness, no gossiping about who is or isn’t at work, and no worrying about when someone takes lunch or runs an errand. You work only when it helps you meet your assigned goals.The authors say the ROWE model has been used successfully at the corporate end of Best Buy, as well as at a variety of other shops. Although there’s a distinction between salaried workers and hourly workers who must perform their service at a particular time and/or place, ROWE certainly could work for many people in service, education, sales, and a lot of other industries.Imagine a world where you napped if you wanted, as long as you met your goals. Imagine that as long as you produced quality work, no one snuck around your cubicle or your office door to see if you were “busy.” Imagine being at home to greet the plumber and feeling no guilt when your child needs you to take her to the doctor.In the ROWE model your time is your own, to manage as you see fit, from wherever you work best or need to be at the moment. In other words, under a ROWE structure, you would be considered a grown-up, rather than someone who needs to be “managed.” If you need the team, you will meet with them. If you don’t need them, you will proceed to do what you need to do.The benefits are obvious. More work from home means less driving and less heating of office spaces. You control the clock, so the conflicts you encounter are your own. You have total autonomy, which has been linked to higher productivity and less stress.What Ressler and Thompson are suggesting here is a revolution in the workplace, where everyone becomes focused on results, as distinguished from process.Thus a college professor would worry more about his students and meeting their needs than impressing a review committee. An editor wouldn’t feel guilty admitting that she does her best work on a laptop in a busy coffee shop with Wi-Fi.This book was written by relatively young people – part of the new generation of American workers who will soon step into leadership roles in our companies and our board rooms. We may be just a step away from finding ourselves in a revolution in the corporate environment.Work is taking a toll on our health, our families and our lives that’s not sustainable. It would be nice if all of our work environments sucked a little less.You can follow Ressler and Thompson’s blog and get a copy of the book on their website, Malcolm Smith is family life and family policy specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension and teaches in the University of New Hampshire Family Studies Program. He can be reached at 603-862-7008 or