Why do you work?

Stephen Overall has written an interesting article in the Financial Times on the motivation of workers, titled On the scent of the light reward (subscription required), in which he gets straight to the point:

Why does the worker work? Friedrich Engels asked the question in 1844. “For love of work? From a natural impulse? Not at all! He works for money, for a thing which has nothing to do with the work itself.”

Few have ever thought otherwise. In the Affluent Worker studies of the 1960s, sociologists investigated car workers in Luton and confirmed that work was a means to an end, a temporary surrender of liberty for the sake of material reward. This remains true today.

According to the article more recent research suggests that the keys to motivation lie in five different “dimensions”. Apparently, motivation flows from:

  • building an “internal brand” with which employees can identify.
  • communicating the organisation’s values.
  • demonstrating better leadership.
  • offering a challenging and interesting work environment
  • good performance management and continuous improvement.

According to one academic working on this topic, any serious attempt to investigate the nature of motivation “…needs to begin from an examination of policies and practices that operate in an organisation. Unfairness is the greatest demotivator.”

That’s all interesting food for thought; particularly the comment about unfairness. Who decides what’s fair and what’s not? Since we’re talking about the employee’s motivation, it would seem to me that the employee’s perception of fairness is of paramount importance. However, I wonder how often employees and management would share the same definition? Not often, I’d bet.

Saddam the Crusher

Sometime ago I wondered why the media often refer to Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein as simply “Saddam”. Wouldn’t this abbreviation be equivalent to referring to his main opponent as “George”? And if so, why does the media discriminate in this way?

Well I struggled for a while to find the answer, but it turns out that Saddam Hussein’s full name is “Saddam Hussein al-Majd al-Tikriti”. Most Arab names have a genealogical structure; individuals are called after their father and paternal grandfather and may also reveal the geographical region from which they come. So we can to some extent dissect the President of Iraq’s name as follows:

  • “Saddam” is the epithet that he chose upon becoming ruler of Iraq and is derived from the Persian word meaning “crush”.
  • “Hussein” was his father’s first name
  • “al-Majd” refers to his paternal grandfather.
  • “al-Tikriti” refers to the town closest to his place of birth, Tikrit.

So, a rough English translation of his name would be “The Crusher/son of Hussein/son of Majd/from Tikrit”. In addition, his true first name was apparently “Hussein”, but that was dropped when he assumed the name “Saddam”.

You can probably see why journalists may have been uncertain about what to call him. While the BBC uses “Saddam”, Canada’s Globe And Mail calls him “Mr. Hussein” (see MP wants Hussein to face trial). For more details see the CTV article You say Saddam, I say Hussein – what’s in a name? and from Slate in 1998 What’s the Name of Saddam Hussein?

Mark’s Mailbox

One of the most consistently good reads on the web is Mark’s Mailbox, the letters page on the web site of right-wing columnist Mark Steyn. Steyn is a Canadian, but he currently lives in New Hampshire, having spent several years working in London. His work regularly appears in the National Post in Canada, The Daily Telegraph in Britain and the Chicago Sun-Times in the U.S., among other publications. As his web site (SteynOnline) pretentiously proclaims, Steyn is a "one-man global content provider". (If you see a link between Steyn and publications once owned by Hollinger International Inc., you’d be correct; The Lord Black of Crossharbour is apparently a big fan of Steyn’s work.)

I don’t read his columns very often. Although his writing is frequently very good, Steyn’s views are too extremist for me, and rarely substantiated by any serious objective analysis. Mark’s Mailbox, on the other hand, is a weekly must-read. Here’s a sample just from this week’s letters page:

You are such a hateful person! There is nothing good that appears in your negative, inflammatory columns! I have begged the Chicago Sun-Times to stop running your pieces. You want to bring on the war? Only a crazy person would talk that way. Perhaps you can share a room with BC Premier Gordon Campbell when he goes in for substance abuse rehab as it is clear that only someone drunk or on drugs would write the things you do.
May you be surrounded by neighbours who all vote for the NDP!

David L. Blatt

There really isn’t much chance that Steyn’s columns can compete with fan mail as entertaining as that! I highly recommend his web site, but stick to the letters page for a really good read.

We’re all getting a little stressed

I don’t really like simply recycling the news, but yesterday I was tempted and now I can’t resist.

Yesterday’s bizarre, but all too credible, story was about a bus driver who was assigned to a new route. Not knowing the way, he asked two fourteen year-old passengers to direct him using the London A to Z. Unfortunately, none of them paid attention to the height restrictions on their improvised route, and consequently they ripped off the top of the bus by driving under a bridge that was a foot and a half too low! For more, see the BBC News at Lost bus driver’s bridge crash.

Now today, comes the news that “A fish heading for slaughter in a New York market shouted warnings about the end of the world before it was killed”. This story (Talking fish stuns New York) is rather incredible to say the least, and so hilarious that I had to share the best bit:

Mr Nivelo [one of the fishmongers] told the paper he was so shocked he fell into a stack of slimy packing crates, before running in panic to the shop entrance and grabbing Mr Rosen, shouting: “The fish is talking!”

However his co-worker reacted with disbelief. “I screamed ‘It’s the devil The devil is here!’, but Zalman said to me ‘You crazy, you a meshugeneh [mad man]!” Mr Nivelo said.

A disbelieving Mr Rosen then rushed to the back of the store, only to hear the fish identifying itself as the soul of a local Hasidic man who had died the previous year. It instructed him to pray and study the Torah, but Mr Rosen admitted that in a state of panic he attempted to kill the fish, injuring himself in the process and ending up in hospital.

I think we’re all just a little too stressed at the moment.

A red letter day

Here’s an hilarious story from BBC News – British Gas sends out £2.3 trillion bill:

Utility British Gas has admitted sending one of its customers a bill for £2,320,333,681,613. Brian Law of Fartown, Huddersfield, received the bill last month as a final demand after failing to pay an earlier bill of £59. The sum of £2.3 trillion was apparently due for electricity supplied to Mr Law’s new home in Fartown. And the letter from British Gas threatened to take him to court unless he paid the amount in full.

Can you imagine the look on his face? It’s very funny as long as it someone else’s tragedy. I laughed out loud.