Blog Post

Job Quality


Through a circuitous route, I encountered a meaningful, thought-provoking quote lately: "... the best way to predict the future is to design it." That's in the "about" section of the 2010 Cusp Conference web page.

I like the idea of designing not just products, but also designing one's experiences - including one's relationships, one's day - one's year - and one's job - or jobs in general.

I've got this theory that jobs are often haphazardly designed. It might go like this. One day a company discovers it needs a task or task cluster done. The company goes out and finds someone to complete the said task or task cluster. The end.

If that's true, then what a shame. An opportunity is lost. The opportunity is to think about the design of the job - to ask some good questions about it that could dramatically change the experience of the worker for the better over the short and long run.

Another part of my theory is that more effort is put into marketing the skunk job then improving it. You'll learn team work! Yeah - you sure will. You'll also gain some valuable life experience dealing with a bunch of stingy, toxic low-lifes.

Now, I think what partially shields the area of job design from some much-needed scrutiny is the positive attitude movement that shuns complaint. Nobody likes a complainer. So they're routed out along with the pesky philosophers who are always challenging our comforting ideas - and so forth.

Complaint is sometimes a nice short-cut. It takes a while to try to formulate things in a positive fashion. The agile movement has been taking shape and has nuzzled its way into the mainstream finally after years and years - in an effort to make the whole software development profession more rewarding and sustainable. It's full of positively-asserted ideas. It's great. But maybe it could have proceeded faster with the help of some highly-visible, harsh-tongued social reformers who were willing to say publicly things at TED Conference like "you have to go back frequently to get the requirements because these people don't know what they want and they also don't want to take the blame for anything that isn't right in the end and pull the selective memory trick on you."

I'm a fan of positive attitude. Don't get me wrong. But I think it can be taken too far. In the job market, we can end up competing with one another on positive attitude in a zero-sum or negative-sum fashion where we all loose our ability to see what's going on. We're getting swamped with skunk jobs.

More specifically to the point about job quality, go on a thought experiment with me. Imagine on these job boards like Monster and so forth - imagine it were a platform where people could independently go in and look at specific jobs and then post their opinion of it. Then searchers could go in and just like product reviews found elsewhere, they could see comments like these:

"Avoid that one like the plague. The benefits are tripe."

"If you want your soul shriveled, then here's the job for you."

"These guys don't care what happens to you. You'll get a check and then to the devil with you."

I don't know about you, but I'd love to see a platform like that. I think it would be entertaining for one. But more importantly it wouild be a step in the right direction. The direction I'm looking for is scrutiny and design.

But what would be better perhaps then community-generated scrutiny, which is often of questionable quality, would be a platform that provides "job builders" some questionnaires of design-centered questions meant to cause more thought about fashioning a job that is more rewarding and appealing short term and long term to more people. Then the jobs with the questionnaire filled out could bubble up to the top - and indicate that someone put some thought into it - and it's not just haphazard.

Maybe you can think up some of these design questions. Maybe someone knows of a cache of them somewhere. Let's drag them out and have a look at them. We can take them and help design the future with them.

Here's a whack:

1. "What if any appeal would this job have to someone who isn't in a low-bargaining position or down on their luck?"

2. "How much time and effort was put into thinking about this job's impact on someone who does it day in and day out?"

3. "What perks if any have been added to this job to make it more sustainable?"

Sure it's tough to spot a poorly-designed job from a well-designed job. But surely there are some ways that can be devised for the job force to better sort things out. I'd like to see more attempts to use online platforms for community comments and questionnaires.


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