Sunday, January 22, 2006

Book Review - Better than Sex: How a whole generation got hooked on work

This week's book review is Better than Sex - How a whole generation got hooked on work, by Helen Trinca & Catherine Fox (who edit the Australian Financial Review's Boss magazine).

Helen Trinca and Catherine Fox are journalists who write about the world of work very much from a management perspective. They are also women (one a mother of three children including twins) and are much more leftwing than I expected for two women who edit a magazine called Boss. Each month, Boss magazine brings the latest management theories to the eager professionals in Australia's capital cities, and publishes interviews with the latest pin-up CEO or visiting US management professor. So it's very much on the side of capitalism.

This book manages to interpret that theory (much of it clearly faddish, but not all of it) and explain how we got ourselves into this position. The "click" moment for me was the chapter which talked about how pleasurable work often is for people.

"...most of our generation stuck it out, gradually being seduced by the notion that work was an important part of life, an end in itself"

and why

"Many jobs have been made more interesting because workers have to engage more directly with clients... The upshot is workers often feel they are a real part of the drive for success and profits...For a company, capturing the emotional energy of an employee is seen as a huge plus...Organisations have a big investment in encouraging you to deny your private life and look to work for the energy and excitement of play and intimacy"

so companies have gradually, and for sensible business reasons, had more and more reason to engage the hearts and minds of people. And workers find that more interesting - if you are working on something that is interesting enough that you think about it in the shower, then you enjoy it more. The downside is that the rest of your life suffers, and if you want that rest of your life to take up a big part of your week, then your employer isn't getting the emotional investment it wants from you.

I have been reading a lot of impassioned discussion (most of which I agree with) about how much of a waste of talent it is that the world of work, particularly for professional jobs, is such a full time world. There's no room for part-timers or even 40-hour-a-week-ers any more. This book is a good way of seeing it from the business side, and I will be rereading it to see what, if anything, I can do about it in my business life, because for better or for worse, I'm one of the ones trying to figure out how or whether I can employ that wasted talent.


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