When and how do you know that ‘busy’ is turning into ‘overwhelmed?

I’m beginning to think that its happening in every organisation with which I work at the moment.

Grown up, senior, reasonable, people are at a point of deluge.

And heres the odd thing.

I don’t even think it’s the ‘work’ as much as what appears to be relentless…. bureaucracy.

A Potter-esque miasma of ‘stuff that has to be done in order to..’ enfolding everyone.

How did it happen: that the flowering of creative developments of technology seems to have resulted in an endless array of – surely basically bureaucratic – apps and systems to help us organise, manage, and submit information in various formats to various places?

The associated oddity is that a discussion about this seems to generate the same bonding warmth that might once have been achieved by talking about a book read, or a film seen, an idea shared, or an event attended.

It’s as if an important part of the invisible glue that might hold colleagues together is becoming a sort of shared resignation about the systems to be battled with, the processes to be endured, the submissions to be repeated.

It’s not a new thought

‘All the labour saving machinery that has hitherto been invented has not lessened the toil of a single human being’

said John Stuart Mill (1806 -1873)

But perhaps recognising the ‘psychological violence’ done to us by these burdens gives fresh urgency.

I think that subversion is the best way to start tackling this.

Certainly, L&D courses in resilience training, performance optimisation, work/life balance (what does that even mean in these situations?) are springing up everywhere.

(Some may be helpful)

But don’t they fulfil the role of field –hospitals?

Getting overwhelmed people back on their feet, to go over the top again?

I recommend a slow beneath the surface gnawing away of the system; a gradual embrace of ‘no’; a sidling up to the joys of successful, creative evasion.

Rather like termites might, over time, weaken the foundations of the most impressive edifice, we shall gradually chip away at these bureaucratic demands.

A new happiness at work suggestion: become a kindly termite.


Descriptors of ‘Millennials’, those born somewhere between 1980 and 2000, range from ‘open minded and confident’ to ‘ narcissistic and spoiled’.

The negatives consistently outweigh the positives.

It’s an easy game to play.

But no generation develops distinctive characteristics mysteriously or spontaneously.  Social and cultural changes, fashions in parenting, reactions against previous generations; all combine and conspire to incubate recognisable generational characteristics.

What were the parenting values that formed the millennials?

I’m interested because I suspect that some organisations act in a similar way.

The consensus is that these baby boomer parents were determined to ‘do things right’.  Their children were angels in waiting. All problems must be solved for them, all support offered, and all they did would be wonderful.

There seem to be 3 axioms that kind of did it…

  • success and happiness are an imperative and a right
  • the child’s (millennial’s) definition of success and happiness is the prevailing, and only, definition that matters
  • everyone else (especially parents) exists in order to facilitate this success and happiness.

If these beliefs drive you, then you’ll expect to get what you want (and imagine you deserve), will fight any that oppose you (and probably pick a fight – complaining has always worked) and actively resent unexpected challenges and problems.

The last time I spent a day with a team that displayed these characteristics, they weren’t millennials at all.

They were a very serious, grown up and senior team.  But the company had acted as a sort of indulgent, helicopter parent. The team was finding a tricky scenario not just challenging, but a personal affront.

The development experience that the sociologists say the ‘millennials’ miss is the bump in the road, the ‘life’s hard knocks’ lesson.

Perhaps organisations can suffer from that too.

The leadership team that has been cossetted and indulged is surprisingly millennial-like in behaviour: simultaneously fierce and frail.