Are Some In Denial About Having A Job?

Do you ever have a rough day, where you think everyone is against you? Where you wrack your brain to understand the behavior of others? Where you look inward to see how you might be part of the problem?

I've worked in a lot of industries, and done a lot of jobs; I've slacked off reading blogs, burned through the night, chatted at the water cooler and helped in triage crisis. I haven't been a perfect employee, none of us are. However, over the years, I've started to notice behavior that falls outside the bounds of normalcy. Mostly occurring in what we might call "white collar work," there appears to be two main types of people, or types of workers. There are those who know they have jobs, and those who seem in denial of that fact.

Let's do the typical, show the definition of a word thing; good old defines job thusly:


  1. piece of work, especially a specific task done as part of the routine of one's occupation or for an agreed price: She gave him the job of mowing the lawn.

  2. a post of employment; full-time or part-time position: She was seeking a job as an editor.

  3. anything a person is expected or obliged to do; duty; responsibility: It is your job to be on time.

I might consolidate these definitions to sound something like "a job is a post of employment where you have the responsibility to do specific routine tasks". Does that sound like a job?

I'm a salaried programmer with the responsibility to regular commit high quality code, and collaborate with my team…

I'm a short order cook with the responsibility to quickly make tasty burgers for my customers…

I'm a freelance consultant with the responsibility to provide services to my client and record my expenses and time…

So, when you have a job, you have the responsibility to do things. Simple. But as I'll describe below, there are those people that accept this, and those people that behave as if they are in denial of the classification.

I Don't Have a Job

Jobs are what poor people have, right? Jobs send you home dirty, right? I have flex-time and a reserve parking space, I can work from home, so I don't have a job right?

There is a sickness, almost a disease in the modern, white-collar work place, which manifests itself as a clear indication that an employee simply does not accept that they have been hired to perform work. Below are some very characteristic symptoms:

  • Playing "Catchup" - This is a word that is used to describe a way of not doing real work, but rather a slew of tangential activities that do not constitute real work. It's hard to argue against the validity of a co-worker "catching up" after a weekend or day off, and yet, a day will evaporate amid a fruitless battle with email and random tasks. It is part of the regular activity of of working to know what's going on, but if all you are doing is catching up on what's going on, when will you get down to the actual work?
  • Existence Outside of Time - You might notice someone who believes themselves not to have a job to always be late to everything, or extend meetings or conversations beyond their planned length. I mean you only have to "punch in" at a job, right? By perpetuating a culture of tardiness, the worker eschews his responsibility to be on time, and when everything can happen in flux, then the ability to have accountability in this regard is destroyed.
  • Being Above Established Processes - The worker who denies the existence of their job will routinely under-communicate, especially with regard to process tools. Expect them to not update tickets in your issue tracking system, ignore established practices, and need constant reminders to perform housekeeping tasks. Isn't following a process what workers in a fast-food restaurant do, and I don't have a job like that, right?
  • Lack of Urgency - When you ask a coworker to do something to help you,that is also part of their routine responsibilities, do they hop-to and help out? Or will you walk past their desk several minutes later to notice them watching YouTube videos, while your work remains blocked? The flexibility of the current workforce promotes an "I'll get to it" attitude, where people are unaware of the urgency of a particular work task. Besides, if I immediately do what you ask, then wouldn't I just be doing what you tell me to? And wouldn't that be like an order? And don't only people with jobs take orders, right?
  • Suffering in Silence - Those with this malady often need help; they know they have work to do, but there are factors preventing it. But to ask for help would be to admit that they actually have these very things to do. "How do I submit a website bug?" for example, not only admits that you don't know how to do something you were, perhaps, hired to do, but that you acknowledge that you have to do something. As far as I know the only people that have to do anything are those people with jobs, right?

Why the Delusion?

An exact classification of those behaviors, which lead me to believe that many people are in denial that they actually have jobs, is hard to nail down. I can only muse on the potential cause: a painful circumstance has contributed to a general denial of reality. We must ask, what is difficult about the obvious reality that should cause so many to deny it, and to participate in behaviors that allow them to distance themselves from the fact that they are employed?

I might suggest two things that could be in play. Firstly, specifically in the United States, our culture of individuality ingrains in us a superiority complex that is very much challenged when we are forced to participate in result-generating teams. Much of our education system is focused on an individual competition and mastery of subjects. Once we are placed into a work place with both a managerial and a skill/respect hierarchy, we have to let go of the ego that has been built up in our early lives, in environments of very similar "peers".

Secondly, these workers are likely affected by what I'll term the "this is it" phenomenon. Having been conditioned to idealize the worker as a dynamic hero, jet-setting to sales meetings, tapping on their smartphone, closing deals, slinging code, etc… once the worker discovers that the majority of the day-to-day is actually rather mundane, routine tasks, a further diminished sense of ego sets in. Yes, you may have graduated at the top of your class from MIT and personally launched a social media app for kittens, but if you think you are above moving a bug from "to do" to "in progress", then your individual abilities will be overshadowed by a perceived arrogance, and people will find it difficult to work with you.

Yes, I Do Have a Job!

What we might draw from the above discussion, is that those who deny that they have jobs are struggling with a diminished sense of ego, and have trouble integrating into the team oriented work environment.

When a team works together in a highly functional way, amazing things can happen and work can get done very fast. I often tell the story of a team I coached overseas, who after completing severely successful sprints with flat velocity graphs was asked by another scrum master, "have you guys been working a lot of overtime hours?"

It's as if, the thought that simply communicating very well, trusting each other, and, here is the kicker: doing our work, could result in such productivity was preposterous: there must be something else going on.

I'd like to argue in this article, that a worker need not feel diminished by having to do work, but rather empowered as a critical component in a more powerful whole. By doing your job well, you are showing enormous respect for your team, company, and really yourself.

If you want to find those people in your office that know, accept, and in some cases, relish in their having a job, you might notice:

  • Over Communication - This worker is constantly, perhaps even obsessively, informing his team what is going on with herself, her work, through the accepted and appropriate mediums. She sets her chat away status, tells people when she is running out to do an errand and how to reach her, writes informative commit messages, brings up blockers at scrums, raises concerns, comments well on issues, repeats decisions in her own words for clarification, and helps clear up confusion if she hears it. These workers don't need to catch up on anything-- they are always at the front of what is going on.
  • Respect for Other People's Time - This worker is slightly early or on time for meetings, and is aware of the agenda (or in my opinion, avoids them entirely) when they tell people they will be at a place at a certain time, they will be there. They accept responsibility for making commitments. You will also notice this worker gets agitated during activities that take away from "real work". If they are tasked with digging a hole, don't expect them to be happy to attend a shovel technology presentation.
  • Process Optimization - Workers with jobs not only follow processes, but try to improve them; by following an agreed process they are acutely aware of the bottlenecks, and difficulties. They don't complain, but rather, suggest or even implement solutions to make the team communicate better, or a process to execute more efficiently. This worker knows that they need to use a tool, because that is how the team has agreed to facilitate their collective work.
  • Hustle - Sometimes, hustle can be achieved by well-known consequences; if a waiter is late a few times in a row, they might be quickly fired and replaced. There is a very real knowledge of one's replaceability, which causes one to always try their best and hustle. But, it doesn't have to be viewed at this individual level. A worker that knows they have a job knows that, sure, there are many other workers that could replace them, but also at a larger level, there are many companies that could replace their company. By accepting themselves as a member of this company, they act entrepreneurial, and get their work done.
  • Asking for Help - Look for the workers who are constantly asking for help or mentorship. Don't take this as a sign of weakness, but rather humility. Remember, they are admitting a fault, and in doing so, expressing their desire to be better. Offer assistance, and encourage an atmosphere of transparency, where there are no "stupid questions".

Do You Have a Job?

What kind of worker are you? Or what kind of workers do you work with? If you feel suffocated by the limbo state of a team that thinks they don't have jobs, you may want to find a healthier culture. Or, are you feeling detached and in denial yourself? Remember, "a job is a post of employment where you have the responsibility to do specific routine tasks".

So now, stop reading my blog and fucking do them!

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