Results should matter, not just working late

As you might guess from the title of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, authors Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson are underwhelmed by the way most workplaces run.

They use words such as dismal, unhealthy and drudgery for the traditional work environment.

Ressler and Thompson — founders of CultureRx, a consultancy that promotes better ways to work — have a long list of reasons for disliking the standard work culture. Atop the list is the commonly held myth that "Time + physical presence + hard work = results."

The existence of the myth will come as no surprise to anyone who has been chastised for coming in a few minutes late, while Bob in the next cubicle is praised for staying late. Never mind that you actually get more work done. Somehow, your boss seems more concerned with having office seats filled than having smart, efficient, productive people.

To satisfy bosses, workers must embrace what Ressler and Thompson call "presenteeism," the idea that traditional workplaces reward long hours over efficient hours. Employees who know how to play the game show up early and leave late, but spend hours reading the newspaper. After all, when efficiency is rewarded with more work, the incentive is to do as little as possible in as much time as possible.

"Our beliefs about work … are outdated, outmoded, out to lunch," Ressler and Thompson argue. "The only solution is to change the game entirely." Indeed, the Results-Only Work Environment they propose is a drastic change for most companies. The basic premise is that "people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done."

It's a paradigm shift, but one company has made the leap. Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson explains in the book's foreword that the results-only philosophy was tested at Best Buy with encouraging results. Best Buy's experiment resulted in a 35% increase in productivity, a vast reduction in voluntary turnover, and a much happier workforce, Ressler and Thompson write.

But persuading other companies to adopt a new conception of how a workplace functions is no easy task. Many of the 13 proposed guideposts for updating workplace attitudes seem far-fetched. For example, the authors propose that:

•Employees have the freedom to work any way they want.

•Employees have an unlimited amount of "paid time off," as long as work gets done.

•Employees should not be overworked.

•Every meeting should be optional.

•No work schedules should be imposed.

•There should be no judgment about how you spend your time.

When presented with these ideas, some managers suggested that Ressler and Thompson prune the guideposts. Some proposals were appealing, but others were not — like ending mandatory schedules and meetings. Indeed, in the traditional workplace, forcing people to be where you say, when you say, is the main tool at management's disposal.

Nevertheless, the authors stick to their guns, arguing that compromising on any proposal puts a manager on a slippery slope to failing to adopt the new mind-set.

"What does that say — about your meeting's effectiveness, about its usefulness — if people only come because of your title or because it says 'mandatory' in the invite?" Ressler and Thompson write.

By giving workers more control, Ressler and Thompson hope to reshape the way we think about work: "Work isn't a place you go — it's something you do."

Of course, the book isn't perfect. At times, Ressler and Thompson seem too caught up in using buzzwords like "Sludge," (their term for negative talk), which is discussed in a chapter that's too long. What's more, the Results-Only Work Environment that they envision seems impossible to implement as a blanket solution. Even the authors admit that creating unscheduled freedom for hourly employees would be difficult at best.

Still, the authors deserve credit for bold thinking. Ressler and Thompson identify a systemic problem with the workplace, explain why the problem exists, and show that eliminating the problem can lead to increased productivity and employee satisfaction. That's more than enough to make this short book well worth reading.

Seth Brown is the author of Rhode Island Curiosities. His website is