The Silicon Valley Voice

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I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing [To Do.]

Really, I on’t know what’s wrong with young people these days.

Consider this question from a confused father to the “Workologist” column in “The New York Times.”

“My daughter is a recent college graduate. She has landed a job that pays a salary and benefits, so all seems great. However, it is a new position, and so far she has very few duties. Not only is she bored, but having no work may result in having no achievements to show future employers. She has tried finding and making more work, as well as helping the more established employees. But there really appears to be not enough work for everyone. She has spoken out on this. What else can she do?”

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Being completely detached from reality, the Workologist naturally responded with some jibber-jabber about coming up with suggestions for assignments that “will make the manager’s work life easier.” My point of view is slightly different — I think the daughter should keep her yap shut and use her spare time, of which she apparently has plenty, to build a monument to Kydoimos. [The Greeks didn’t have a god for work, but Kydoimos, the god of confusion, chaos and hubbub, comes close.] Clearly, she has a lot to be thankful for.

For most of us, finding a job where we have too little to do is, in itself, a life’s work — an accomplishment only equaled by the challenging task of keeping a job where we have too little to do. Of course, the sad fact is that it is a lot of work to keep a job where there’s no work to do. And it requires a number of skills, all of which would be extremely useful for the lucky lady in question.

It’s true! If you have a super-demanding position with unreasonable results expected 24/7, how are you ever going to develop the invaluable skill of looking busy while not being busy at all? Certainly, you and I are not going to tell her. Having worked for years on looking like we are working, I think I can safely say that no Broadway actor, no movie star – and yes, I’m talking about you, Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage — can do a better acting job than thee and me when it comes to acting stressed and exhausted as we sit over our computers, complaining about all the work we have to do while, at the same time, we’re shopping for designer potholders on Etsy.

Also, having a job where there is nothing to do provides an excellent opportunity to start developing the excuses that will last you a lifetime. People who actually have work to do just don’t understand how difficult it is to survive an annual review with some nosy HR nerd, especially when you have to come up with a reasonable excuse for not having accomplished anything for the entire year. Sure, “the dog ate my sales report” may work in year one, two, or five, but to keep a well-paying position for decades without ever meeting a deadline, or even knowing what your deadlines are, takes creativity.

In fact, I can safely say that it would be easier to do the work than it would be to avoid the work- but what would be the fun in that?

Fortunately, most managers really don’t want you to do any work, either. All it takes is for some deranged, busy-bee, type-A employee to start producing bold new product ideas and disruptive marketing initiatives, and suddenly, a manager’s cush job turns into a nightmare. First of all, the manager has to decide if these brainstorms should be passed up the chain of command to senior managers, fat as ticks with salary, options and perks, who definitely don’t want to rock the boat with any bold moves. On the other hand, if the manager ignores those bright and shiny new ideas, the company could be blindsided by some market innovation that will make the manager look like the idiot she is.

Unless, of course, there is an employee who could be blamed for the screw-up. Perhaps, someone new to the job, who really doesn’t have anything to do, and therefore, wouldn’t be missed if she were gone. And that’s the biggest mistake the father and the Workologist make.

It may not be in her job description, but this young lady really is a vital asset to her current and her future employers – she has become the perfect patsy.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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