Worst offices: Everybody has “No time for that!” (Even important stuff.)

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When most people think of the phrase “no time for that,” probably the first thing that pops is this Auto-Tune:

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Well, look … I think we’ve all worked in these office jobs with a “no time for that” culture. I’ve alluded to this “cancelled meetings” culture before too. That’s where your boss schedules some “weekly check-in” with you, then keeps cancelling it because he/she has more important stuff to pursue. After about six weeks of that happening, you should squarely realize your boss could care less that you even work for them. So that’s fun!

This is all tied to the “no time for that” culture, which admittedly is a term I just made up. Here’s a dangerous dichotomy around these types of workplaces: in almost every recent study, employees say they want job training and new skills. Logical, because technology is moving quickly — and some people are feeling left behind. See also: how Donald Trump and other nationalists are winning elections. OK, so what’s the problem? Most managers operate on this mindset of “I’m too busy to train people, so GAH I’ll just do it myself!” That’s a miserable approach, but almost everyone I’ve ever seen in an office uses it.

True story: I once went to a middle manager in a health care company, OK? Dude was totally slammed all the time — and not shy about letting everyone know it. I offered to help him with some projects. He seemed excited at first, but it quickly became “Well, I have so many meetings, so I cannot tell you what the projects are.” Then it devolved to “You wouldn’t know how to do this stuff anyway.” Eventually we just stopped talking altogether. This is the “no time for that” culture. Basically, you have all this supposed stuff on your plate — but you can’t find the time to even talk to someone about helping you. Seems odd, right? Not really, because …

No time for that: What is work, really?

For most people, it’s about chasing relevance (to superiors) and not being seen as incompetent (ditto). As you rise up a chain, you chase a fat bonus too. These complicated intersection points usually mean that we often confuse “busy” and “productive” and we like to tell people about the quantity of our work as opposed to the quality of it. Remember: quantity is something you can control and showcase as an example of how essential you are. Quality in many cases is subjective. All these factors, taken together, create the “no time for that” culture. Most people need to chase things of personal value to them as opposed to anything that would be logical for the company or others on their team. See also: many people are selfish. And see as well: organizations usually are not very good at setting priorities down a chain.

A comedic example of the no time for that culture

Even if you absolutely love your job, you’ve probably seen a few things go down from time to time. Most middle managers are ultimately low-value digital paper-pushers. And, sadly, most “senior stakeholders” are meeting-sitting glad-handers. It’s largely unfortunate. (Wonder why priorities are so askew?)

I’ve worked with more than a few of these ass clowns in my day. At one of my last gigs, I once messaged a middle guy on Microsoft Lync. I asked him about a project or two and he replied: “No worries on that, I’m executing…” Six weeks later, absolutely no one in the company knew where it stood. That’s pretty much work in a nutshell for a lot of people.

This same guy was an all-timer (Hall of Famer!) when it came to no time for that work culture. I’d offer to help with drip emails. “No time for that, on this other thing from my boss!” A few weeks later, I’d ask if I could help with this remote project. “Absolutely no time, slammed and heading to conference in Atlanta next week!” Sure, sure … but could I look into some SEO optimizations for the site that you have business ownership of? “Can’t talk now, no time, my boss needs this ASAP!”

I go to a trade show in Vegas with this dude and what happens? We’re standing by an elevator bank and his boss — the one he’s slaving away on projects for left, right, and center — blows right past us with nary a hello. What did he say, though? “No time for that, off to a client event!”

Wharton has equated work to “chimp rape” in some context, and you know what? This story shows that’s not too far off.

So can we fix the no time for that culture?

Short of changing the definition of what “success” is, probably not. Since most first-world cultures are geared towards achievement, that’s what people pursue. The problem with “achievement” is that jobs may not exist in 20–25 years. So where the eff are you getting that “achievement” from at that point? Universal safety nets? Maybe. But in this terrifying, ambiguous calm before the storm period, we’re all out here pounding our chests — subtly or not so — about our relevance, worth, and busyness. Those are factors we can control, which makes us feel better about the stuff we cannot. The “no time for that” culture all springs from that.

I try to think about work in different ways, and I also try to call out some managerial BS we’ve all experienced. If that kinda sorta interests you, I do a newsletter every Thursday. Feel free to join up.

My ass puppet friend above? It’s almost as if repeatedly saying “no time for that” could be a synonym for “If I keep showcasing how busy I am, no one will notice that in all likelihood, a computer algorithm could do my job.” It’s not just him. Almost all of us feel that way. It’s just a question of how close we individually get to admitting it.

What about priority alignment and the no time for that culture?

This is an ideal dream. I’d love to find people who sit down at 9:01 am on a Wednesday and know exactly what they need to do. I don’t mean busy work or what boxes they need to check. What I mean is: “My company is trying to achieve this, and this is my department’s role, which filters to my role.” That is very uncommon at most companies, even the ones that make money. Instead, it’s largely low-context, low-touch “sense of urgency” projects where everyone is screeching and snarling “I needed that yesterday.”

The easiest way to make work functional is to have some real priority alignment. This also helps with the stress many associate with work. But instead of “This is how you can contribute and grow,” many managers hand their direct reports another line. “I have no time for that,” they sneer, “as I’m busy with this stuff over here looking out for №1.”

Seen the global employee engagement stats? Seen the trust in the workplace stats? Not good. Maybe this “No time for that” culture factors in.

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