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After hearing old friends and colleagues whinging about workplace nastiness, which seems to have intensified since the credit crunch, Scot Herrick of Cube Rules asked them how they coped. The answer was that they now just treat their job like a paycheck. (Or as we would say in New Zealand a pay cheque.)

That is they turn up, go through the motions, go home and once a week or once a month the money turns up in their bank account. I’m guessing here that Herrick is writing about knowledge workers and not hamburger flippers sleepwalking through shifts at the local fast food joint.

Herrick’s understandable response was to point out these conditions “are killing you”. He then went on to discuss how civilisation is only so many meals away from breaking down. Something Americans would be aware of after Hurricane Katrina.

Herrick’s key point was:

When people are working “because it is a paycheck” and not because they remotely like the job, the company — and the country — is in far more trouble then financials will tell you. Disengaged people won’t (and can’t) help you solve the problems of the day. They can’t rise to the occasion to save a customer or resolve a process. Disengaged people can’t lead their work and support their teams.

What Herrick is describing here is a process that is happening all over the world right now. Workers are sliding down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is precisely what happens when times are tough. As Maslow puts it, starving people will attend to gathering food before worrying about social niceties. Herrick’s ex-colleagues are starting to act and think like rats in a crowded cage, because survival is more important than being a decent colleague.

Of course it would be easy of me to suggest people who find themselves in this kind of position should get out and find another job. We all know it isn’t that easy. On the other hand, figuring out how to climb back up that Hierarchy of Needs or, at least, to not slide further down, may help.


It is a paycheck — and it is killing us | Cube Rules.

Challenging Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Managing knowledge workers: motivation and the hierarchy of needs