Happiness or Fulfilment

There is an irony that in an economy

Based on consumption
The highest to which we can aspire
Is happiness.

Happiness may come from consumption
And acquisition.
It is a measure of the effect something, or someone
Has on us.

Fulfilment, however, comes
From our ability to produce.
Even the language helps here,
We fulfil an order, we are happy
When our order is fulfilled…

Most people go to work to be economically productive.
Being economically productive
Brings a sense of fulfilment,
The satisfaction of a job well done.
(there’s that Craftsman, again…)

Putting something into the world
That will change the world in some small way
For others to consume.

Crafting an object or words into something
That is unchangeable once put into the world
(digitisation aside) is what fulfils us.
Consuming such a thing; a meal, a book, a movie
Generally makes us happy.

Work. There is much talk these days
Of the future of work, the role of AI and robots,
And so forth.

The irony in this
Is that in the pursuit of economic efficiency,
We are removing the opportunities for people to be fulfilled.
(technocracy rears its head in different guise)

Reading and Writing
Reading is consumptive, writing is productive.
Cooking and Eating
Eating is consumptive, cooking is productive.
Listening or Playing
Listening to music is consumptive, playing an instrument is productive.
Making and Using
Using is consumptive, making is productive.
You get the picture.

Everything we do is in this pairing of production and consumption.
Consumption is something we do for ourselves,
Production is something we do for others.
Consumption (is supposed to) bring happiness
(at least that’s what the marketeers would have us believe)
Production has the potential to bring fulfilment.
And that’s what we need to talk about now.


The role of mid-level managers in employee fulfilment
There are thousands of words written
On employee engagement and customer satisfaction
And their intertwined relationship.
What has the middle manager to do with this?

We are told Leadership is primarily a people-oriented activity.
I believe the middle manager’s version of leadership
Is less about the people
Than about the system that drives people’s behaviour.
(administration, not leadership)

In short, if the systemic environment
Enables people to be productive, they will have
A sense of fulfilment from their work.

Otherwise, they must seek that fulfilment outside work.
Because it is innate to seek fulfilment.
It is how we overcome empty lives.

The growing emphasis on hobbies and crafts
Is more an indictment on the lack of fulfilling work
In people’s employment than a sense of nostalgia.
Today, most people’s out-of-work activities
Are purely consumptive: scrolling Facebook feeds,
Watching Netflix, ordering in Uber Eats.

There may be an argument that the incredible rise
In consumptive activities, a search for happiness,
Is driven by unfulfilling work lives.
But I know of no research that has explored that angle.
If you do, please let me know…

There is a role for middle managers to play
In reversing this.
Despite the rhetoric about work/life balance,
We have only one life and a fulfilling life comes from
Being economically productive.
A happy life may or may not result from consumption.


In my view, a mood of craftsmanship is key.
The simplest definition I have found is
”doing a job well, for its own sake”.

The Top 3 of the Top 10 Skills for 2020
Identified by the World Economic Forum are:
Complex Problem Solving
Critical Thinking

The WEF is all about being productive.
Their Top 3 skills come very close
To defining the craftsman.

Middle managers have an enormous role to play
In helping employees lead fulfilling work lives, or not.
Which puts you, the middle manager,
In a very powerful position sociologically.
You have the position and authority to better the lives
Of your employees and their social networks
Simply by the degree to which you choose to help them
Have a fulfilling and productive experience at work.

That’s quite a privilege and, I hope,
A quite different way of looking at your role
From the usual rubbish trotted out about how you
Block change or stymie progress or create unnecessary layers
In the hierarchy.

Speaking of which, the hierarchy, there is some strong evidence that hierarchy is good but the basis for setting that hierarchy is often flawed.
To reach back into the past and explore the hierarchy of apprentice, journeyman, master, we see the hierarchy is based on skill. This was drawn out through the Guilds and standards were set both locally and, in the case of gold-smithing, individually.

A crucial element of the contract formed between a child-apprentice and the workshop master was the master’s commitment to improve the skills of the apprentice. This (largely) prevented the exploitation of child-labour. This relationship of in loco parentis we continue to have in our schooling system and, I would venture, would be a worthwhile model to adopt for middle management. The contract you form with your employees must involve an element of skill improvement, cognitive skills.

We all consume in order to be productive and we produce in order to consume.
We read to better inform our writing, purchase tools to help us create, we purchase an instrument we wish to play.
And we produce in order to consume.
We work to earn so we can consume. We prepare and cook so we and others can eat. We write so others can read.
There is a balance to be achieved: fulfilment and happiness. But happiness is largely up to us. Fulfilment in our work is, these days, almost completely in the hands of managers.
If a manager encourages an environment in which creativity and innovation can occur (there are plenty of articles you can read on that) economic benefit may accrue. But this environment is the same in which people will be their most productive.

What is productivity?
Most business groups – and unions, for that matter – think of productivity in terms of “per”: widgets per hour, revenue per employee, calls per day, sales per month, etc. Negotiations then reduce to what a reasonable ratio should or could be.
In the service economy (70% of the world’s GDP and the same for most countries in the OECD), we are still using these archaic agricultural and manufacturing measures of productivity. To do so we need to “productise” so that we can use the measures and this has the effect of driving everything into the transaction. But service is built upon relationships. And quality of service is determined by the customer, no-one else.
To complicate it even further, the value of service is a joint effort between the customer and employee. It is much like the person who is a good listener, we always walk away thinking what a great conversation we had when, in fact, it was us who did most of the talking. Service is similar, it is ephemeral and the customer who claims to have received great service has usually done most of the work.
In the service economy we a productive only when we are creating value so the most productive, customer-facing employees are often those who do the least at the time of transaction. The irony in all this is that both parties will walk away fulfilled.
If middle managers can realise that, and the implications for the environments they need to create – and how performance is measured – their own job becomes much easier.
An interview could be as simple as, “what environment do you need in order to feel at your most productive?” – not sure I want to venture down this path…

Administrators as Change Makers
Administration as a Craft

In the manual crafts and trades we easily accept that competence is something that builds slowly over time, with repeated practice. The model is that of the Master and the Apprentice which has been dismantled through industrialisation.

Yet we attempt to transfer the management style developed for industrial scale manual labour (separate the planning from the doing, Taylorism) to so-called knowledge work without: a) recognising its inappropriateness or b) admitting that cognitive competence has levels, as well.

There was something I was thinking about these last two days but I cannot remember. I think it was around the point of “You deserve better”: as a manager, as an employee, student, teacher, child, parent.

The Value of Hierarchy