Knowledge Work and Outdated Management Theory

I am a knowledge worker. What I do at work is based on my knowledge of law and regulations and processes for dealing with very specific and ultimately common events. I do not think that what I do is difficult, but it took me many years to get to the point where the job I do seems easy.

The only substantive constraint on the work I do is the hours of access to the necessary software programs; they are taken offline each evening for updating and report processing. There are some deadlines. Some of those who work for my organization do have to meet with people during office hours. Generally speaking, however, the main constraints on our work are put on us by management.

Though there is no effective difference for us between getting something done in the morning or the afternoon or even the middle of the night, the organization that I work for seems to believe me and my colleagues are factory line workers. We are constantly reminded about punctuality and directed as to our use of time during the day. Like many office workers, we stare at the computer monitor screen even if we are doing nothing. Those supervisors and managers who concern themselves with what every worker is doing for every minute of the day seem unable to tell the difference between someone who is working and someone who is merely staring at a computer monitor.

Douglas McGregor, were he to look at the culture of this organization, would immediately think Theory X. Though our management claims to look for new ways of doing things and is always talking about improvements, the line workers are constantly subject to rigid Industrial Age methods of management. There is no flexibility applied by management to scheduling. Though we workers have proven over the last two years that we are able to do any and all work from home, we are daily reminded that this is a privilege able to be taken away over the slightest provocation.

Management has the tools monitor productivity. Apparently, they do not know how to use those tools except to castigate those they cannot monitor every minute of the day. Not only are these methods outdated, they are counterproductive. It is time for management to come into the knowledge age. I think someone needs to tell them.

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