Lucy Kellaway on Office Life, Creativity, and Culture
Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway writes about office life, pushing back against some deep-rooted habits and misconceptions among workers and job applicants alike.
She discussed her viewpoints on the financial workplace in a Take 15 interview with Lauren Foster, exploring such subjects as happiness, creativity, and the widespread use of misleading euphemisms.
So what is most responsible for workplace satisfaction? It isn’t management, according to Kellaway. “It’s about who’s sitting near you, basically,” she said.
Management only controls so much of what goes on in an office. It is not responsible for your happiness with those around you.
So if you do not fit well with a company, and no mobility exists, Kellaway says, your best option might be to leave. She attributes much of her own professional satisfaction to the people with whom she works.
Creativity Is Overrated
There isn’t much creativity in Kellaway’s office, she says. And that’s a good thing.
“Our obsession with creativity is absolutely moronic,” she said.
Many of her articles have evoked strong responses from readers, but Kellaway’s takedown of the “creativity plague” generated a surprising reaction.
Expecting a backlash, she was shocked to receive widespread praise for challenging a common business trope — that creativity is always good.
Not only is creativity overvalued, most hiring managers and workers misunderstand the meaning of creativity anyway. Coming up with an original idea, design, or product is harder and much rarer than many realize.
“This idea that we’re all mini Steve Jobs is just nonsense,” Kellaway said.
Rather than forcing or faking creativity, successful businesses manage and maintain their models while tweaking them along the way.
Kellaway also spoke about how business speak too often conceals the truth.
“We use sort of stupid language when we don’t want to tell the truth,” Kellaway said. “And the biggest cause for euphemism is when you’re firing people. And my all-time favorite was EY [Ernst & Young], who got rid of a lot of people, and then said, ‘We look forward to strengthening our alumni network.’ So disingenuous.”
This sort of language obscures the underlying meaning, softening its effect or burying it deep under a lie. For a writer, these manipulations are frustrating. The anger and confusion are even greater for employees who hear euphemisms instead of receiving honesty from their managers.
Equally troubling for Kellaway is the overuse of ambiguous clichés and meaningless jargon.
Common words mean one thing outside of the office, but in the workplace they take on completely different definitions. “You can deliver your sofa from John Lewis,” she said. “You cannot deliver improvements.”
Indeed, the term “deliver” is so misapplied in the office setting that its real meaning and precision have almost been lost.
One final observation from Kellaway: Often the advice senior management receives is rubbish.
Common phrases such as “never stop learning” or “always listen” are meaningless when you start thinking about the actual complexities of the management process, she says.
“What you’re actually doing [as a manager] is getting people to do something that they wouldn’t want to do otherwise,” she said. “And that is a very hard job. And you’re under so much pressure from shareholders. And so all of the advice is so platitudinous.”
If you liked this post, don’t forget to subscribe to the Enterprising Investor.
All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: Courtesy of Monica Pedynkowski