Jeremy Abroad

Why most jobs suck - Perception-based Management

June 09, 2018

When I first started working, I had this idealistic vision that I would be judged based on my results and my results alone. In certain professions where one’s output can be easily quantified like sales and trading, this is indeed the case. But in most other professions where one’s contribution is not as easy to measure, one is valued based on an arcane combination of politics and lazy proxy metrics.

Eventually I came to the sobering realization that perception is valued more than anything else. This perception is ultimately determined by one or two humans higher up in the corporate ladder - which in the case of technical roles in many cases don’t have the technical knowledge to actually know what you’re doing and evaluate your productivity.

When your managers have the technical competency to evaluate your work, then work is more enjoyable because you know you will get credit where it’s due. You need to spend an extra day refactoring that code? Your boss understands. There is a sense of trust because there’s no black box here, you both know what you’re doing.

When your boss doesn’t have that technical competency is when things become less straightforward and perception starts playing a bigger role. And even when your boss is technically competent in what you’re doing, he is most likely answering to people who aren’t, and so he has to play the perception game with his bosses dragging you into it.

Having to devote energy away from actual productive work and towards perception is what I would argue is the root of all that makes a job unpleasant. I can deal with work that is drudgery if it’s meaningful, the burden is shared, and I get credit for it. But playing politics and sacrificing productivity to play up perception has always been my least favorite part of every job I’ve had.

Don’t get me wrong a certain amount of perception grooming is unavoidable, but it’s been my experience that most companies go way too far to the point where it sacrifices productivity, increasing disillusionment and turnover.

Signs of lazy convenience-based management:

  1. Strong emphasis on being “available”

In modern corporate culture there is an overdone emphasis on being “available”, on being responsive to email or chat at the drop of a dime. In customer service and tech support type jobs this makes sense, in cognitively demanding jobs that often require deep focus like software engineering, this is absolutely ludicrous because constant interruptions are highly disruptive to this kind of deep work.

Cal Newport (computer science professor at Georgetown) has written an entire book on this called Deep Work. In a recent article he quotes Jerry Seinfeld:

“Let me tell you why my tv series in the 90s was so good, besides just an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune. In most tv series, 50 percent of the time is spent working on the show, 50 percent of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99 percent of our time writing. Me and Larry [David]. The two of us. The door was closed. It’s closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”

  1. Strong emphasis on being present from 9am-5pm or in the office X hours/days. Hostility towards remote work

Again unless this is a customer service or retail type job, this is just lazy perception-based management.

Jeremy Bernier

Written by Jeremy Bernier who left the NYC rat race to travel the world, work remotely, and find the meaning of life.