Busyness

Photo from Recca Bmonk (apparently) on Unsplash

There was a corny 1950s film about the US Navy. A warship was in dock between missions, with the crew carrying out repairs, preparing for the next mission. They had little to do, and the work they had was repetitive and boring, with the crew starting to get restless and to squabble amongst themselves. The Captain announced that, on top of the drudgery, he was going to get the crew to build him a small sailing boat. The crew and some of the senior staff were horrified. They couldn’t believe the cheek of the Captain to work them harder, all apparently for his own personal benefit. Of course, the crew pulled together, got the ship ready for sea and produced the little dinghy for the Captain.

The film spelled out (for those of us too dim to follow) that the Captain had deliberately thought up the scheme in order to unite the crew in their dislike for him. Noble self-sacrifice of the best kind – and getting a little sailing boat into the bargain.

I once worked for a company run by a man who shared the Captain’s work philosophy. Tony was obsessed with ‘busyness’, fearing that employees would get restless and start looking for jobs elsewhere if they weren’t kept occupied every minute of every day. He was constantly looking for things to keep people busy, no matter how pointless the task. And the film was right – it united us in our dislike for him.

Well, I have also worked for a company who took the opposite approach: when there was little on, they relaxed the rules a bit, allowing people to get in late, take longer lunchbreaks and leave early – so that they could fit in some semblance of a social life. They even offered ‘Time Off In Lieu’ of busy periods. And what that company succeeded in doing was to unite its employees in their like and respect for the management team. Now, I don’t know, but isn’t that preferable!

– xxx –


Published by Peter Runkel

"Work hard and be nice to people." Anthony Burrill

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