|Thursday, 14 June 2012 06:00|
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Last night I drove past our local Blockbuster Video store (or as I refer to it these days: "Please rent something from us, our children are starving.") Only one employee was on duty, the Store Manager, who apparently had the whole place to himself. He was sweeping up behind the counter.
The sight of his lonely multi-tasking brought to mind a situation I call "Mad Hatter Syndrome." That's when an applicant who desperately needs or wants a particular job professes self-defeating willingness to take on extra duties-- even those normally handled by other employees. Such an appeal might make an applicant more attractive because it can save a company money: hire one employee to do the work of several. The multitasker gets a needed job, and the company pays less in overall wages. It's a win-win situation, right?
Hardly. What often happens when an overenthusiastic multitasker does the work of many workers-- "wearing more than one hat," in casual business parlance-- is that additional duties get assigned to the multitasker over a period of time, until it is discovered that no one worker is capable of competently doing all that work alone. Eventually the over-taxed multitasker finds himself unable to meet the heavy work demand, resulting in declining employee morale as the "hatter" grows "madder" and "madder" until he finally burns out and flips his teapot. Thus a formerly positive worker is systematically reduced to a grumbling, miserably downtrodden drudge trying to meet varied responsibilities in multiple (often unrelated) areas... constantly running but unable to catch up. This sad state of affairs typically ends in the resignation or termination of the Mad Hatter, either due to indignance at the frustrating workload, or as a result of his newly-bad attitude.
Except... once the duties of any eliminated job position get consolidated into the workload of someone else, it's exceedingly hard to justify re-establishing the eliminated job (at least to the accounting department). Proactive capitalist efficiency always tends to favor payroll reduction-- NEVER its expansion. So once a job gets eliminated from the payroll, it's highly unlikely to return. Instead the new "Multi Hatter position" will continue to exist-- its inhabitant du jour perpetually overworked and underpaid in a soul-crushing sinkhole of a job that repeatedly transforms hard-working, ambitious employees into surly, emotionally-burned-out drudges who eventually either quit or get themselves fired.
Why would anyone want to occupy such a position? Sure, those desperate enough for gainful employment might have little choice. But no matter how pathologically driven you might be to overachieve, or how desperate for praise or validation (or a paycheck), to willingly trap yourself in such a scenario pushes the Motive Needle officially past "workaholic" and well into "Good Smeagal always helps" territory. And it hardly ever ends well.
There's nothing wrong with working hard to do your job; just don't get stuck working hard doing someone else's job. Employees don't burn out from "hard work"-- they burn out from being given an impossible amount of work, and the frustration of toiling under the constant shadow of imminent failure.
Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself: if you find yourself being mistreated, try to exit with dignity... but get the hell out of there. In the immortal words of Stanislaw Lem: "Cannibals prefer those who have no spines."