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Liz Ryan Headshot

Congratulations: You're Unemployable!

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I love my job so much it's sick, but there's one part of the job that bores me to tears. Once a month, I have to invoice certain clients, and I hate that so much I can hardly force myself to do it. Most of the folks who work with me pay me via my my website or PayPal, but a few of them -- universities where I give workshops and publications I write for -- have to be invoiced every month. Yuck.

I have to go through my calendar or my Sent folder and pull out the names and dates of the stories I've submitted to each publication or the workshops I've led at each university. I hate clerical work. Here's what I do: before I start one of these invoices, I play two or three games of Solitaire online. I play Solitaire, and it calms me down. The Solitaire fortifies me to plow through the tedious work of putting one of these invoices together. When one invoice is out the door, I rejoice, and play more Solitaire. The whole thing -- the Solitaire and all the invoices -- takes me about an hour, once a month.

My husband stops by my office and walks in while I'm playing Solitaire, and he says "Playing hooky? Looks like you're playing Solitaire."

"Indeed I am," I say. "Two games of Solitaire is my reward for sending out each client invoice, and my sustenance to get me through the next invoice I have to create."

"Congratulations!" my husband says. "You're officially unemployable."

My husband made me laugh, and he made me think. Am I unemployable? Maybe I am. If a new employee told her boss, "The thing is, just so you know, there are a few tasks that I can't get through without playing Solitaire to help me plow through 'em," the boss might not cotton to the idea.

Of course, I get re-employed in small, medium and large slices, every day. People don't pay me to invoice them -- they pay me to do what I do well and what I love to do. If I had a full-time job working for one client, called My Employer, it's highly likely that there'd be parts of the job I couldn't do without my Solitaire-flavored Xanax to get me through.

Would my employer throw me out on my ear when s/he saw me playing Solitaire at work?

My honey's observation made me wonder. Isn't one of the keys to finding and keeping great employees, designing jobs that great employees want to do?

We have a very loud and persistent message in our country: Work is work. Why should it be fun? You're getting paid, for Pete's sake!

Fair enough. But if it isn't fun -- if it's so boring that an employee has to comfort him or herself with more acceptable versions on online Solitaire, like coffee breaks, trips to the restrooms, pointless copy-room visits and over-the-cube-wall chats -- isn't there something wrong with the job, more than with the employee?

Of course, everyone is different. No doubt there's someone out there who loves compiling column titles and dates and constructing invoices from them.

But what about the mantra "Every job has its bad parts." Does every job have to have its bad parts? I accept the worst parts of my job, the Solitaire bits of it, because I think it would be even more tedious for me to train someone in the hateful invoicing task, and supervise him or her, than to do it myself. It's worth it: the rest of my job rocks. But what about jobs where significantly more than one hour a month is spent on tasks that are aversive for what HR people call "The Incumbent" (the job-doer, the occupant of the desk, the FTE)?

We can say "Suck it up and do the job." Fine! Most people will do it. Will they do it well, if they hate it? We're not getting the full brainpower and surely not the full life force of the Payroll Unit when the tasks aren't fun.

We can say "Do it or be fired." That's our prerogative, as Bobby Brown would say. It's stupid, though, because it's expensive to replace people.

What if we constructed jobs in our organizations so that they were fun --- stem to stern? What if we looked at the way people show up (certain people are analytical, certain people are creative) and organized the work so that people could do what was fun for them, instead of organizing jobs around sets of random tasks in certain functions of our organizations?

What if the Human Entity were the most significant molecule in the mix, rather than the Work, the Tasks, and the Deliverables?

What if we never gave people a reason to turn to the online Solitaire? What might be possible then?

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