Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Book Review


Philippe Rothlin & Peter Werder

Kogan Page 2008


As back as the early 70’s I had the opportunity of watching a short film which was an entry for the International Film Festival, from the then Federal Republic of Germany. The film was of five minutes’ duration. It began with showing a woman sitting on a slotting machine, picking up a small piece of wire from her left, inserting it into the machine and taking out and piling up the ‘finished’ pieces on to her right. The film continued and continued to show the same action for the rest of the five minutes. The spectators were left aghast, wondering what message the film had tried to send. At the end of the film, a plate finally was scrolled up, “Bored? Imagine yourself working on this machine for eight hours, which this woman does!”

I had just finished reading Durkheim’s ‘state of anomie’, and I could picture what it meant...although Durkheim highlighted this in the context of extreme division of labour and even went on to stating that such a situation is one of the causes for suicide in the industrial society. But the modern context also, in which Rothlin and Werder have written this book perhaps takes into account unknowingly the situations created by extreme division of labour. Wasteful engagement, which Covey brilliantly puts in Q4 of his description of the ‘third habit’ is only the opportunity one gets at the workplace with little willingness to do what he has been assigned or has been confidently able to finish off well ahead of time what he has been assigned. Although we talk about multi-skilling and job rotation liberally, how many of us have witnessed it in practice in large corporations – where the ‘division of labour’ is at its peak? (Smaller organisations on the contrary are closely monitored by the entrepreneur-manager and therefore the human resources are overtly multi-skilled without deriving the satisfaction of what he ‘loves’ to do.) There is an apathy prevailing towards accountability and nothing is left on the job to ‘charm’ them. What is left to be done by the ‘disengaged’ is inadvertent indulgence into boredom!

Clearly Rothlin and Werder have been able to define the ‘Boreout Paradox’. In their words, “The paradox is that the employees themselves keep the boreout condition of dissatisfaction alive....and make no active effort to break out of the vicious cycle.” There is a similarity that essentially needs to be drawn out between a boreout and dispassion, which the authors have very subtly expressed throughout the book.

Surviving with a boreout in a workplace is accepting that nothing would ever be possible to bail oneself out of the situation and one has to live with ‘loss of interest’. Dispassion on the other hand is an inherent distaste and ‘no interest’ in a particular kind of work, albeit a boreout can be emanating out of dispassion. Marcus Buckingham in his book ‘First Break All the Rules’ talks about passion, although in a different context that of talent. Both Rothlin & Verder and Buckingham talk about the waiter. The former have analysed and have quoted the example of waiters doing the vanishing act after leaving the menu card with the customer, because he was going through a ‘hidden boreout’. The latter, however, talks about the ‘passionate’ waiter. He comes back to the customer, verbalising his previous order and asks him if he would like to have the same menu or something different this time, with suggestions from his end.

Without being simplistic in drawing conclusions, I am only suggesting that Boreout seems to be the flip-side of ‘Passion for talent’. This understanding would lead us to reviewing the methods, the authors have chosen to address boreout. Let us understand that passion (the opposite of dispassion or boreout) emerges from inherent motivational needs that McClelland had identified many years ago and have not been addressed by large corporations: achievement, affiliation and control or power. And at the same time in passion there are personal interests to cover. Jerry Lopper the author of ‘Jump for Joy! Clearing the hurdles to an easy life’, says, “Personal interests and life's passions are the activities a person loves. These are the activities you gravitate toward whenever possible. Your personal interests and passions are things you've done since youth—perhaps in different forms—but with an underlying common thread. Your life's passions, whether work or hobby, are the activities which allow you to experience life purpose—who you are at your core.”

Sense of ‘individual responsibility as an instrument against boreout’, stems from the motivational needs, which the corporations have to identify ruthlessly and relentlessly. Individual responsibility is also a complement of accountability, which should be borne in mind by these corporations.

Personal interests are what Rothlin & Verder refer to as ‘meaning’ in the job, in their ‘qualitative pay’ model. Seeking out work during working hours is a question of a combination of one’s sense of individual responsibility and personal interest once again. These obviously guide the person at the workplace to the comprehension of the value of time. Lastly, in this model the authors describe that there was sufficient importance to financial incentives, (Get the very best deal you can!) but the emphasis should not be on money alone. They sum it up by saying, “If you are trapped in a wrong job, then all the money in the world will not help you to spend your working days in contentment.”

The book has two great advantages: (1) it is a quick and precise reading with plenty of insightful windows that one needs to look through and (2) the language is lucid and simple without being jargonistic at any stage.

* Dhruva Trivedy is an alumni of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, a management consultant and a certified trainer based at New Delhi, working on ‘morphing’ of organisations for the last 21 years now and for almost 16 years had worked his way up the corporate ladder before he took to consulting. To know more about him visit:

Additional reading suggested: The Living Dead: Switched Off, Zoned Out - The Shocking Truth About Office Life - David Bolchover