Expecting Abnormal Human Behavior

Assumptions for this conversation:

  • 1 human year = 52 weeks
  • 1 human week = 7 days (~365 days/year)
  • 1 human day = 24 hours (~8760 hours/year)
  • 1 work year = 50 weeks
  • 1 work week = 5 days (~250 days/year)
  • 1 work day = 8 hours (~2000 hours/year)
This suggests to us:

  • 1 person allocates 33.3% of each work day working for pay (8h/24h*100)
  • 1 person allocates 23% of each working year for pay (2000h/8736h*100)
So, if on an average calendar year, we get approximately 23% of an individual, how should we best make use of their attention and effort?

If we were to study the 77% of the calendar year an employee spends in their private life, we'd find approximately 1/3rd of it to be allocated to sleep. And the other 1/3rd? Living.

And just how do they live you ask? We should but look in the mirror.

Think about this, a thirty-year old woman just started at your company. She is technically one day old at said company; however, she is thirty years old (young) in her life. She comes to the company with prior experiences, predispositions, declared opinions, education, successes and failures.

Is it the responsibility of the new employee to figure out how to fit into the culture of the company in which she is employed? Or is it the responsibility of the company to figure out how to make best use of the new employee?

Yes, the easy answer is both as they provide reciprocal services (work for paycheck:paycheck for work). However, many of our company cultural practices run contrary to the personal lives of our employees. For example, prediction.

For any project, we diligently work to predict the future by:

  • outlining all possible requirements
  • outlining all possible tasks to deliver said requirements
  • outlining all possible dependencies
  • calculating effort hours for all tasks (even those not scheduled to occur for six+ months)
  • assigning people to tasks in percentages (such as Joe being assigned 25% capacity)
All of this math is completely logical if it weren't for the fact that we are unable to predict the future. So at work in order to manage this risk, we add contingency calculations to everything "just in case". We don't do this in our personal lives to such an extent, if at all.

In our personal lives, we don't know for sure if the University of Illinois will have a good football season this year, if our $30,000 car will last for five years, if all invitees will show up to the birthday party, if we'll get an "A" in any particular class, or if our children will make it through elementary school without bone breaks. We plan for the primary games, choose the most important components of the car, coordinate the party logistics, make sure we nail the major papers and tests, and try and educate our children on good decision-making. Yet, we are guaranteed nothing.

Most of us make no attempt to identify all intricate details for our vacations or to calculate contingency based upon risky dependencies. We live life knowing full well it will happen with or without us and often in a manner not predicted. This is not to suggest we should not plan or not think through a "Plan B". Rather it is suggesting that we simply cannot predict with 100% confidence. And so, we don't.

For any particular person who spends 77% of their calendar year thinking and solving problems for themselves in their own manner on their own time, why do we expect they will overhaul their natural human tendencies and practices at all, let alone well enough to be something different while at a place of work? How do we know work expectations are right?

Maybe we should consider placing greater value on understanding and leveraging natural human behavior versus trying to control it? After all, human history tells us over and over again that the human spirit is not ever stopped or controlled, but rather stimulated in one direction or another.

What if we worked diligently to understand why people are different? What if we worked to understand their strengths, weaknesses, goals and aspirations? What if we recognized that people are humans coming to work to earn money to go home and continue being humans?

Why do we expect people to be different at work than they are at home? Maybe we have it backwards.

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