You Want Me To Do Hard Things? Why Bother? Thoughts from a Disillusioned Worker


I wrote a couple of blogs recently on the value of doing hard things. One of my readers agreed with my premise but also went on to share a different take on this theme that has to do with becoming a disillusioned worker. Here’s what he said:

“I worked very hard when my kids were little. All of them have commented as adults about how they learned to work from me. I am very happy about that. But as my career progresses I’m not setting the example I once did. I feel overwhelming frustration and a sense of hopelessness because today’s upper and middle management try to squeeze out more profitability by “doing more with less,” and it has taken a toll. I never wanted to be a grumpy old man, but that is who I am becoming.”

Companies are putting an increasing burden on the backs of their employees

I have to agree (not the grumpy old man part). I’ve watched this phenomenon in my consulting business and I’ve heard a lot of family and friends share the same lament. Companies are automating, improving their processes, and downsizing their work forces. Upper management has learned that they can run lean. This has paid off in greater efficiencies and record corporate profitability but, in many cases, has placed an increasing burden on the backs of employees, creating millions of disillusioned workers.

I asked this gentleman if I could interview him and he agreed. I told him to tell it like it is from his point of view. Here is an abbreviated and edited version of what he had to say, quoted with his permission.

“Although I only know my own experience, I think that my company is like many who are increasing their profitability but at the expense of their employees. In my case, I started twelve years ago in my home state with eleven accounts. Then it started growing and I now have over a hundred accounts that I’m responsible for in several states. I’m on the road almost every week and yet I can’t call on all of my accounts because there isn’t enough time. I’m dealing with calls and complaints every day and it has become overwhelming.

“Besides more accounts, I’m continually getting demands from corporate people who don’t travel. They come up with things for me to do so the company will look better in the eyes of the customer and they’ll look good in the eyes of their bosses. They say ‘this would be good for you to do.’ Maybe so, but they don’t realize this is just the latest in lots of initiatives coming from many different sources that don’t coordinate with each other.

Top down demands

He went on to give me a recent example.

“There’s a new program in which I’m supposed to send a nice email to a customer the week before I visit them. When I visit, I’m supposed to meet with the general manager (besides the service managers who are my customers) and ask if there is anything I can do for them. Then I’m expected to follow up with an email a week after our visit thanking them and telling them what I’ve done.

“One request like this might be okay but I’m getting lots of them from corporate people who either have no idea the work load I’m under or simply don’t care. Then they follow up, ‘have you done x, y, and z?’ All their uncoordinated demands put triple the workload on me. I end up spending hours on my computer every day just responding to their requests instead of visiting customers. And I end up being on the computer all night when I should have time for myself or my family.

“Technology makes things worse. Because everyone has cell phones, tablets, or computers we can’t get away from one another. These devices have become a 24/7/365 electronic leash. Plus everybody thinks they deserve an immediate response which disrupts my normal work day, wears me out, and over time decreases the quality of my work.

“I’m convinced that the pay of corporate staff is based on a grid—how many texts or emails they can send in a day along the left side of the grid and how many people they can copy along the top. It takes an average of an hour and a half every day just to look through my emails, plus another two and a half hours to do my follow up and paper work. I get up early and get to bed late most days.

Overworked and underappreciated

“And I know my customers are in a similar boat. Heck, I did their job before I started consulting. Their companies have combined what used to be three jobs into a single role and then wonder why customer service is not as great as it used to be. The owners get upset and then guess who gets punished? The service guys who are already overworked and underappreciated.

“Like so many businesses, we had to cut back employees in 2008. We lost about a third of the people doing my job. Guess who picked up the slack? Plus we have sales guys that are generating more business than ever. So we’re setting revenue records all the time but the company tells us they’re not going to hire more people to service the accounts. I literally feel like a Jew in a concentration camp. They’ll work me to death and then get rid of me when I can give no more.

Many bosses don’t listen

“I’ve tried to talk to my boss and he says he didn’t hire me to work 8 to 5. Neither did he tell me that he hired me to work 5 to 8. He wasn’t honest with his expectations. He’s pounded the crap out of me for the last twelve years and still expects more. He doesn’t respond well when I tell him I have a personal life, family, church, and community responsibilities. Then he goes on to tell me my number one priority should be work. In fact, he actually said to me once, ‘The new guy that would replace you won’t know or care – he will just be happy to have the job. So you better make a big boy decision.’

Impossible demands

“It reminds me of when my youngest daughter got married. I was in another city in a neighboring state for her wedding and got a call from my boss that I needed to call on an account in this city on this day. I told him I could not, it was my daughter’s wedding day and he had already approved my vacation time. Besides, it wasn’t even in my territory. He said he didn’t care to hear my whys and wherefores and that I had to do it anyway. He told me the wedding was in the afternoon and I had time before all of the festivities began. I said “no” again so he ended up flying some other guys in from other states. My boss told them they could thank me for this disruption to their schedules. Fortunately, they were my pals and so they covered for me.

“Bottom line is that I feel hopeless in the face of everything management asks of me. Nothing is ever enough. Those who work harder get even more put on their plates. I’ve tried giving 110% but know that it won’t be enough. Eventually, I stop caring. Why put out so much just so my superiors can look better to their superiors? They don’t care about me and my personal life. So why should I care about the job I’m doing?”

A common refrain

Now I’m not going to claim all employment situations are as demanding or bosses as merciless as my friend’s. But I have heard a similar refrain from many employees around the country. Many employees are feeling seriously overworked and underappreciated leading to lots of disillusionment in the American work force. Validating this perception is research showing that around 70% of all employees are disengaged from their jobs, some actively hostile, others simply putting in their time until a better opportunity comes along.

So my question is, have you had a similar experience? How have you handled it? Are you a disillusioned worker? Or what thoughts do you have about how to remain upbeat and productive instead of becoming the dreaded grumpy old/young man/woman? (Comments welcome.)



  1. Diana Buckwalter

    Hi Roger, my recent St Louis adventure was exactly as this person describes. I gave 24/7 to my job to get a new service up and running. My superiors had absolutely no care or concern about my overload of work. Sometimes I would be working more than 30 hours and they still would not care. I relate to everything in this post, technology included. It changes how you think and how you rest and how you spend any personal time that you ever get.I developed increased anxiety and insomnia. My mind was constantly on work. I dealt with this by leaving and am currently trying to discover better ways to make money. I have developed boundaries that are more solid than they ever have been. I don’t think this corporate expectation will change any time soon. Unfortunately the consequences are strongly impacting personal health and relationships. The medical world is a cutthroat place to work and the trickle down to patients is not pretty. More and more talented clinicians are leaving because of the ridiculous expectations put on them not only from the insurers but also the government. I have no answers except for myself.

    • Roger Allen

      Hi Diana. I hear you. I know something of what you committed to get this new business up and running. Congratulations, by the way. But it is too bad when your superiors demand more and more with no concern for the toll it is taking on you personally. Good for you for setting some boundaries and knowing when it was time to get out. Roger

  2. Andrew Short

    Pressures at work abound. They always will. Employers will ALWAYS push you to see what they can get out of you. The only way out is for everyone to say NO. And everyone won’t say NO.

    About halfway (and only halfway) into this post, I felt like the person you were interviewing might have been me! Sales organizations have no idea what next year’s sales might be, so they take what you did last year, factor in a “thumb in the wind x 2” percentage, and that becomes your goal for the next year. God forbid you had a good year because you’ll pay for it next year with huge, unattainable goals. There is never a time this method isn’t used, and there is never a year when your goal shrinks in revenue or profit – even if it might seem logical that it should.

    The only way your goals are reset to realistic levels is to have a “bad year”. By “bad year”, I mean, your company could be wildly profitable, but you, individually, didn’t meet your “goals” so your accelerators for pay don’t kick in, and only when setting goals for next year MAYBE the fact that you didn’t meet your previous goal could be a factor in calculating the new goal.

    And in that, the message is ALWAYS “You missed your goal”. The message is NEVER “We must have missed something in the market when we calculated your goal number, it should have been closer to (Goal – X).”

    If you make your goal one month, the message is “Doing great! Don’t LET UP! Keep pushing and close more business!”. If you miss your goal one month, the message is “You need to catch up. Don’t give up! Keep pushing and close more business!”

    When you start, it’s bright and shiny cheer-leading, but after a while, it becomes repetitive, disingenuous, & meaningless. I find myself asking “When do I cross the goal line? Do I EVER get to spike the ball or do I just have to KEEP PUSHING AND CLOSE MORE BUSINESS!” It gets old. As I get older, it has less and less effect on me.

    I think age has a lot to do with this. Not because we get “old and fat”, but because, as your interviewee said, He busted it for 12 years for his company. He’s probably to the point that he’d like to see some spoils and he’s being treated like a rookie and expected to act with rookie energy and gumption, like working on a vacation day.

    My management wouldn’t dream of calling me (or anyone else) on my day off though, so I have that going for me. Your interviewee is fortunate that he’s built a good network of people around him for the kind of support he needed while at his daughter’s wedding. It sounds like he has a bad manager. A good manager/leader would have told his backfill(s) that they need to cover for him during one of the most important days of his life. Like, “If you watched a daughter get married, you already understand why this is his day! If not, hopefully someday you’ll appreciate this favor being returned to you, and I hope it is.”

    • Roger Allen

      Hi Andrew, thanks for your insights and thoughts. I’m glad to know that you recognize the syndrome in your company, and sales departments in general, but are letting it have less effect on you. You have a good perspective that has helped you keep your sanity. I think, over time, we adopt a little bit of a “this too shall pass” perspective. Not always good because it reflects an underlying lack of honesty and open dialogue about goals and performance and what’s really going on in the marketplace. Roger Allen

      • Andrew Short

        Another thought on this:
        One of the biggest problems with management always pushing for more, while you try to segment your work and home lives, is that there will always be someone at work who IS willing to give more. You are in danger of succumbing to their pure enthusiasm.

        When you become known as someone who will say “no”, it is for one of the following reasons, or something similar:

        1. You say “no”.
        2. You don’t answer your cell phone after work hours.
        3. You don’t check emails after work hours.
        4. You dare to walk out the door at 5:30pm with work still on your desk.
        5. You insist on your PTO by, for instance, being allowed to participate, uninterrupted, in your daughter’s wedding.

        There is an antidote: Keep segmenting the two. You will be happier. And at work, especially when you’ve put in 12 years at a company and know a lot more than younger, eager ones willing to sacrifice personal life for professional: KICK ASS AND BE EXCELLENT EVERY TIME.

        Make it so those who need you to do the work won’t ask someone else just because they are available and eager. The attitude should be, more often than not, “Andrew is worth waiting on. Since he’s not going to answer his phone right now, send him an invite for a morning meeting so we can get our heads around this one.”

        That may not work every time, at every company, but it could change your workplace for the better, for everyone. In any case, at every establishment, your work should be a better place because you are there.


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