Once upon a time people worked in offices like this. Desks lined up in neat and orderly rows. Handbags tucked securely inside drawers. Open concept…well, for some of the employees.
As this picture dates from the 1960’s, my guess is this was where the gals in the secretarial pool sat. The fellas, no doubt, had plush and luxurious offices with windows.
I am worn out just looking at this picture.
Now for all I know these busy employees were doing stimulating and enthralling work. Maybe they were processing multi-million dollar wire transfers to exotic foreign lands or solving complex engineering problems.
Perhaps Beatrice there (2nd desk, cat eye glasses, bouffant hairdo) read The Feminine Mystique and realized she too suffered from ‘the problem that has no name’ so she marched out and got a job a few years ago.
At first it was fun. There was something new to learn every day and she was thrilled, beyond belief, to feel productive and empowered. She learned to operate that fancy multi-line telephone on her desk and initially found the endless repetition of running adding machine tapes hour-after-hour somewhat soothing. Mr. Jones, her boss, was very nice to ‘his girls.’ which is how he referred to Beatrice and her coworkers Enid, Maeve, Wanda Mae and Gladys. He (well, his wife) made sure the girls got a bouquet of flowers on their birthday to place on their desk, and he never (ever!) raised his voice; he didn’t want to upset anyone lest she be having her monthly female visitor.
But then boredom set in. Excruciating, teeth-numbing, soul crushing boredom.
Beatrice, after several years in her job, has moved from satisfaction to the point of contentment. But this is not contentment that resulted, as one might have anticipated, in continued happiness and acceptance. Rather, it resulted in further listlessness. Restlessness.
Beatrice became what we call today, 50 years later, a ‘disengaged employee.’
Disengagement at work is not always due to compounding negative forces; it can just as easily arise due to ennui.
Perhaps that’s a ‘problem that has a name.’
image of 1960’s workspace via Sacramento Municipal Utility District
this post originally appeared at the HR Schoolhouse