Move Over, Casual Friday

Hey, here's news: America's workforce is miserable. A recent survey found that 70 percent of Americans say their jobs are "miserable" or -- apparently one step better -- "bearable," according to au

Mar 30, 2005 at 2:06 pm

Hey, here's news: America's workforce is miserable.

A recent survey found that 70 percent of Americans say their jobs are "miserable" or — apparently one step better — "bearable," according to author Dennis Bakke.

But even those adjectives must not cover the legions of discontent, because 5 percent more, 75 percent, are looking for a new job. It's pretty much been this way since the Industrial Revolution, Bakke said.

Bosses have the power to change those numbers by giving up power, Bakke and nationally renowned consultant Peter Block told about 100 mostly executive types who gathered at Northern Kentucky University's posh new METS Center for Corporate Learning for a free breakfast presentation March 23.

What's missing from our work lives is fun, Bakke said. He didn't always think that. He was too busy having a lot of fun as co-founder and head of the energy corporation AES.

"We (the bosses) always have fun," Bakke said.

But then he started noticing that only the bosses seemed to be having fun.

"Because we always have the ball," said Bakke, who illustrated most of his points with sports metaphors.

So he decided to turn over possession by limiting himself to one significant decision per year.

No one taught him this when he studied at Harvard Business School, he said. Nor was he taught to strive to "create the most fun workplace in the history of the world" or to eliminate management, organization charts and job descriptions.

Nor to actually invest a company's resources into warm and fuzzy ideas such as, "The purpose of business is not to maximize profits for shareholders but should be to steward our resources to serve the world in an economically sustainable way."

Nor to jettison the dual pay systems where some people eke out their pay by the hour while others get paid in salaries, bonuses and stock options.

When Bakke gave his 40,000 AES employees the choice, 93 percent chose to go salary even though they lost overtime, he said.

No, he certainly didn't learn any of these things at Harvard. But when, as CEO of his company, he put those harebrained ideas to work, he said they did just that. They worked so well that he wrote a book called Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job.

Someone's boss asked Bakke how to hold people accountable under such a system. Concentrate on empowering them and don't worry about the rest, Bakke said.

"We want to make a difference in our lives," he said. "We want to serve others and meet our own needs. If you have the right atmosphere, you don't have to hold anyone accountable. We want to keep score. It's how we're made."

That ties back to the No. 1 idea on Bakke's top 10 list: "When given the opportunity to use our ability to reason, make decisions and take responsibility for our actions, we experience joy at work."

Block also warned against using the language of distrust. No one can hold another person to anything, he said (see "Peter's Principles," issue of Sept. 3-9, 2003). That's the point they were both trying to make.

"We leaders are not nearly as significant and important to the organization as we think," Bakke said.

Disgruntled employees can even tell them so by anonymously e-mailing their bosses from Bakke's Web site (

"As a leader, you have the privilege of empowering others to make important decisions so they can experience joy in their work," the e-mail says.

It's mostly a book promotion tool, but satisfying nonetheless. For about 75 percent of us, it might be worth a couple clicks of the mouse.

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