It’s enough that we do our job. Do we also have to like it?
Apparently, so. According to a recent “On Work” column by Paul Jaskunas in The New York Times, the secret to succeeding in a job these days is, in the words of a very old song, to “pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.”
Now, I’m not exactly sure what a “kit bag” is. I imagine it was something Grandpa used before the invention of the fanny pack. But a smile is still a smile, and if smiling at work is difficult for you, or even impossible, you may find that your boss is going to give you something that will definitely not cause you to smile – the boot.
It’s true. The Tyranny of the Forced Smile is the headline for Jaskunas’ essay, and he minces no words when it lays out the harsh reality of the situation. Employers now expect us to profess true love for our jobs, he claims, even when we’d rather frown.
Of course, there are probably people who really do have jobs that leave them smiling from the moment they prance into work until the moment they dance out, satisfied that they have delivered peak job performance, improving productivity and profitability for their employer, and helping humanity, as well.
(There’s a name for people like this. We call them delusional. You can usually find them in HR, but take my advice – don’t look.)
If your management expects you to smile from 9 to 5, you are either extremely unlucky or you work for The Walt Disney Company. Jaskunas uses Disneyland employees as examples of workers who manage to smile constantly, despite working conditions that would stress out the Dalai Lama (You try listening to “It’s A Small World After All” for eight consecutive hours a day, and see how much you feel like smiling.)
The secret behind the smiles at Disneyland is that workers aren’t really working. “All employees who interact with the public are considered members of the ‘cast,'” the author explains. “Custodians, concessionaires, crowd control staff – in the Magic Kingdom, they are all expected to perform as if they love their work.”
(Why this is so unusual, I have no idea. You’ve been performing at your job for years. In fact, for your portrayal of a happy, satisfied, inspired employee, you deserve an Academy Award. Or two!)
All of which raises the question of why we’re supposed to act happy at work. Jaskunas has a theory. “Our Protestant work ethic has blended with our contemporary notions of self-actualization to create a situation in which we are all expected to whistle like Disney dwarfs.” Maybe. All I know is that it’s a lot easier to be “Happy” if you’re just a little “Dopey.”
On the other hand, if you are one of those unfortunates who actually have a moral compass, and so, find it difficult to turn in a good performance at a job that turns your stomach, the best plan is to stay out of sight. If you do occasionally have to turn up for, say, a weekly status meeting, schedule an appointment with a cosmetic dermatologist the day before. A talented MD with shaky ethics can shoot you so full of Botox that you’ll have a smile on your face that will last through any horror show, even three hours of your boss explaining the company vision statement.
When it comes to getting a job, there can be no question that showing happy, crazy enthusiasm is essential. When the author finds himself on a hiring committee, he is surprised to learn that one of the key qualifications for a successful candidate is to “love the job.”
“Some of us are lucky enough to have lovable jobs,” he writes, “but this strikes me as an extreme standard to apply with respect to most positions.”
He’s right, of course, but if you want the job, you may have to pretend that you love the job. How to do this convincingly? Don’t shake hands with the hiring manager; hug him. Don’t sit in the chair. Jump up on the desk. Don’t recite your job history. Sing it! You be the happiest, jolliest, craziest job candidate who ever applied for a position at that firm.
If they give you the job, you can hibernate. Trust me, after that performance in the interview, no one will ever want to see you again.
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 email@example.com.