Before you say: “That’s can’t be right, I’m as routinized as the next person” — maybe you’re not. Maybe you only think you’re routinized. Truly routinized people never wonder if they’re routinized. They’ve never done anything that isn’t routinized. You can rely on their predictability — which is exactly what employers want these days (or so they say).
First of all, think about someone who’s always employed. What about that neighbor next door. Each morning, he leaves the house at eight-twenty. Ever wonder why it’s always eight-twenty? Because he’s a reliable, dependable individual. He’ll arrive at the office at nine o’clock, grab a coffee, then go to his desk. Through the course of the day, he’ll do exactly what’s expected of him. No surprises, no mistakes, just a steady stream of reliable, predictable work.
Employers love the routinized man or woman. Ask them why and they’ll say: “Because they’re team players. We need team players. They integrate well. They make sure the work gets done on time.”
If you’re envious — don’t be. Along with being routinized, they’re also homogenized. Far from being standouts at work, they’re merely part of the flock. Deep down, they know their work adds little value outside of keeping the machine going. They have no spark, no new ideas.
“The danger lies in the tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.” Bill Bernbach, 1947
In David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” an officer is asked why he wants to go on a dangerous and, possibly, suicidal mission. He replies: “Back in Montreal, I was an accountant. My job was to check numbers that were already checked by twenty other people.” The colonel nods as if it makes all the sense in the world. Nothing sends a soldier into the breach faster than spending years doing the same monotonous job.
Look, every organization needs its flocks. But homogenized work is also where monotony sets in. Routine makes people sick. It contributes to an incredible amount of absenteeism in the workplace. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, absenteeism has gone up 30 percent in the last ten years.
I’m not saying monotony is the only cause. But repetitive work — particularly where constructive input is neither expected nor appreciated — does lead to higher absenteeism. And today, over 20 percent of employees don’t consider themselves important or critical to the jobs they do.
As much as employers want work done quickly and on time, they can’t ignore monotony — not when it translates into absenteeism. This is now considered the biggest irretrievable cost on the company’s books.
Governments will tell you it costs companies millions of dollars. It costs billions of dollars. You could buy a fleet of destroyers with what companies lose on absenteeism and general worker’s malaise. In other words, the routinized employee is becoming a liability. And that’s where the non-routinized job seeker becomes attractive.
Let’s look at it from the 7 most important things employers look for:
Intelligence: Supposedly, 76% of an employee’s productivity is determined by intelligence. Yet that intelligence is only applied to repeated tasks of planning, setting priorities, organizing and getting the job done. Rather than breaking monotony, it enforces it, thus increasing the risk of absenteeism. Non-routinized workers don’t feel helpless. They look for alternatives — either different ways of doing things, or ways outside of the workplace to fulfill themselves (such as people like me writing blogs).
Leadership Ability: They define this as the “willingness to accept responsibility.” A good leader “does not make excuses.” In other words, you take all the weight on your shoulders. Again, with responsibility — especially routinized responsibility — comes high absenteeism and higher healthcare costs. A non-routinized employee will accept the leadership role on one condition: they have control over the work being done — especially how it’s done.
Integrity: Employers describe this as the ability to “be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.” A non-routinized employee will ask if this also applies to management. If employers aren’t honest, it isn’t long before routinized employees follow suit. In the end, nobody admits anything, meaning the level of integrity drops exponentially until there isn’t any at all.
Likeability: Routinized people like to make themselves appear warm, friendly, easygoing and cooperative with others. Yet routine good-naturedness is often seen as insincere. Over time, even routinized teams start to question these supposedly sincere people. There’s a breakdown in trust. And with that breakdown comes a further breakdown in productivity and quality of work.
Competence: In its simplest terms (according to employers) this is the ability to get the job done. When “end goal” is the only criteria, routinized workers fall back on tried-and-true practices. The mentality of “this worked before so let’s do it again” or “this is the way we’ve always done it” becomes standard. The work is no longer a challenge but a process. And you get the same wearisome results. Non-routinized workers will question how you get to the end goal, possibly finding more labor-saving ways of doing things. New ideas always bring lifeblood to a company which, in itself, is good for business.
Courage: This is seen as the “willingness to take risks.” Routinized workers don’t take risks. Non-routinized workers do. See “Competence” above.
Inner Strength: It’s one thing to say you want people who “persevere in the face of adversity.” But when that adversity is the organization itself, it’s nearly impossible to expect perseverance from routinized employees. They only remain “cool” when the structure is what they expect. Non-routinized people welcome change. And since companies are supposed to change with the times, non-routinized workers end up being a better bet.
In other words, being a non-routinized worker could be your best asset. Bring these points up at your next job interview. You might get a better response than you think. If you don’t, maybe it’s not the job for you after all.
So how would you classify yourself? Are you a non-routinized worker? Do you think companies are missing out on the best applicants? Let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, blogger and novelist. His first novel: “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Skyhorse Press and Yucca Publishing for more details.