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Have we been oversold on our expectations of the workplace?

Feel like you're going through the motions at work? You are not alone: a new study finds that even highly-skilled knowledge workers feel largely underwhelmed by their own work load!

A new Conversica poll of 1,000 knowledge workers reveals the drudgery that can be found even in the most sought-after jobs. More than three-fourths (80%) of survey participants admitted that some aspects of their jobs are below their skill level, while verging on two-thirds (62%) said their work involves a "significant amount" of drudgery.

Meanwhile, more than four in ten knowledge workers (42%) report spending 30 minutes of every work hour taking care of "busy work".

Is this surprising? No, but perhaps not for the reasons we expect. As a society, we have managed to build an entire mythology around the culture of white collar work. Television shows, movies and magazine articles constantly send us the message that our careers are supposed to be exhilarating, and never boring. Our job should always be like the opening scene of The West Wing, where the characters just keep walking and talking breathlessly until they mercifully sit down and just keep talking continuously about Incredibly Fascinating Things. Will somebody get me the President of France on the phone!?


Then we turn off the television and go to work, only to find that work isn't breathtakingly busy at all times. In fact, much of the work can be downright rote and boring once we have the routine down. All of the sudden, we've gone from The West Wing to working in the movie Brazil. Where do I get it stamped?


It's a conflicting message. The reality of the workplace isn't meeting our expectations of it. If our work has moments of boredom, then we feel like we're doing something wrong with our lives. In fact, upwards of three-fourths (71%) in the Conversica poll think busy work leaves them feeling like their lives are being wasted. Wasted.

Have we set unreasonable expectations of the workplace as a primary source of excitement, and exhilaration? Do we expect too much from our jobs?

Our Unreasonable Workplace Expectations
Good managers invest in employee development, advancement, and challenging assignments to keep employees motivated. They have one-on-ones with employees to make sure they remain engaged on the job. These are all great things, but employees also need to have realistic expectations of the workplace. What it can do for them, and what it cannot.

I see the work expectations already forming in the generation coming up, Generation Z. We are sending our teenagers the message that they have to find well-paying jobs, preferably in the STEM field. But we parents can also telegraph unrealistic expectations along with our recommendation to take four AP courses at once. If we're not careful, our kids might get the message that work itself will never be boring or come with any downsides.

I worry about this, since I'm raising a few members of this generation. I want them to have realistic expectations of the workplace, no matter what field of work they choose to enter someday. I want them to understand that they will encounter moments of boredom in any job. They will have tasks they don't feel like doing, and drudgery that requires their attention -- sort of like being asked to empty the dishwasher, or fold laundry. Again.

I also want them to know that even though a task might be boring, it still needs to get done well. No job is, or ever will be, perfect in its scripting, lighting, and pacing. This way, they won't feel disappointed when they do encounter drudgery on the job. They knew to expect it, and to work through it.

Keeping Work Expectations In Check
So maybe it's not that the work is so boring. Rather, it's that so many employees have such lofty expectations of the workplace. As employees, we need to keep our workplace expectations in check, or we will always feel disappointed no matter where we work. Calls must be made, invoices must be logged, papers must be filed, the printer needs more paper, a document needs to be stamped. Again.

But there will also be days that make up for the less-exciting days at work. Days that will feel exhilarating and will remind us why we do this job for a living. It's those days that sustain us and keep us going. And that's just the nature of the workplace. Maybe this is the workplace message we need to hear more often so we don't expect more from the workplace than it can reasonably provide.

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