Book Review: Fake Work

Title: Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem
Author: Brent D. Peterson & Gaylan W. Nielson
Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment

Have you ever sat at your desk, trying to look busy because you finished your work for the day and you’ve still got three hours before the workday ends, and thought, “Couldn’t I be doing something more valuable with my time?” Have you ever spent hours working on a report that you know your boss isn’t going to read and wondered, “Does all this work really matter?”

Welcome to the world of fake work.

In Fake Work, authors Brent D. Peterson & Gaylan W. Nielson reveal to us the cause of so much frustration, anxiety and inefficiency within the workplace: Fake work.

So what exactly fake work? Quite simply, it is any work that we do that fails to align with the goals of our companies, organizations, churches, and families. It’s the work that we do that steals our time & energy, and destroys our morale. The authors refer to it as “the road to nowhere” – as though you’re building a road on a mountainside leading to the site of your new cabin; you’ve moved rocks, filled the roadbed and faced the oppressive heat and the punishing cold. But you’ve moved ahead, confident in your understanding of the surveyor’s plans. But, as you weave and wind around the landscape, you find yourself at the end of the road, staring down from the edge of a cliff.

That, in essence is fake work. A great deal of effort expended, resources committed, but none of it matters, because it doesn’t get you where you need to go.

Our work culture is built on fake work. For decades, the mantra has been “The longer I’m at my desk, the busier I look, the more valuable I am as an employee.”

It’s a lie. It’s the lie that creates fake work. Here are some examples that you may have experienced:

Staff meetings, project meetings, meetings that no one really knows the purpose of, but everyone’s there anyway.

Writing reports that are never opened. Busy-work that fills the last hours of the day so no one might get the idea that you’re a “slacker.” Sitting in meetings where you know your presence wasn’t required.

It’s all fake work. It is insidious, isn’t it?

In the second chapter of the book, the authors show us ten causes of fake work. As you read them, take a moment and compare this list to your workplace:

  1. Failing to Understand Your Job—Your Real Job
  2. Failing to Recognize the Finish Line
  3. Failing to Focus and Prioritize
  4. Failing to Understand the People Around You
  5. Failing to Communicate about the Right Things
  6. Failing to Understand the Importance of Your Team
  7. Failing to Clarify and Drive Strategy from Top to Bottom
  8. Failing to See the Execution Gap—Alignment, then Execution
  9. Failing to Manage—No Matter Our Level
  10. Failing to See that Culture Creates an Environment of Fake Work

How did your workplace stack up? Now that we know the causes of fake work, how do we stop doing it? How can we get off the road to nowhere?

I’m glad you asked. Let me introduce you to real work.

In the second half of the book, Peterson and Neilson provide us with the 9 paths to real work. They are:

  1. Discover Your World of Fake Work
  2. Escape from Your World of Fake Work
  3. Just Do It! Real Work
  4. Understand that People Do the Work
  5. Communicate: Listen to and Understand the Stories
  6. Teams Drive Real Work
  7. Close the “Execution Gap” to Drive Real Work
  8. Managing Real Work
  9. Strive for a Real Work Company Culture

Here’s the big idea: Real work is about performing tasks that fully align with the clearly communicated strategic goals of your organization. Real work is not about measuring perceived work. It’s not about how much “face-time” you can put in around the office. Real work is about results.

This is such a refreshing idea, isn’t it? When I first read these words, it was as though my heart was crying out, “YES! I’m not the only one thinking this!” But I can imagine that for many, this might be a terrifying idea. It flies in the face of everything we have experienced in the working world, but it’s true. And we can begin doing real work when we:

  1. Clearly define your company’s goals, it’s strategic plan – ask your management team if there isn’t anything already defined in writing
  2. Look at your job ask this question: Is this fake work? Does it align with our goals?
  3. Stop doing any fake work
  4. Replace your fake work with real work

In Fake Work, Peterson and Nielson are drawing a line in the sand. They are showing us that the working world is broken, and it needs to be fixed. We need to not create cool, hip workplaces, but instead focus on transforming how we work and the work we do.

Our time is too precious to be wasted chained to a desk, playing solitaire or watching YouTube videos because you finished your entire week’s worth of work in a matter of hours. It’s time to say no more to fake work; to put an end to the practices that steal our time and our joy. It’s time to say yes to real work and transform the working world.

Originally Published at J Roller Reviews on March 12, 2009

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