Quiet Work and Make Work

One of my first tasks at my new job was to set up source control and a test server for the client. Previously, the client had relied on their development company’s servers to provide this, but with their new approach of bringing all the development in-house, it was necessary to create these environments.

The creation of these servers, however, is not particularly satisfying work. It involved buying the appropriate hardware, installing some software, and configuring a few scripts. As the only developer currently working on the system, there was limited satisfaction in completing the tasks – there was no other person who would actually notice the work that I had done.

However, I did not find the work to be tedious, for the following reason – it was all necessary. A sign of a job well-done in this case is the fact that it was not noticed by anyone. The job satisfaction is in the fact that no one did, in fact, detect that I had done any work. At the same time, I had the realization that sometime in the future, others will be appreciative of my having done this work properly.

Contrast this with what has been termed make-work, where the purpose of the work is to keep people busy. The result of the work may be noticed by others, but it is neither necessary nor permanent. For example, a report might be requested in order to keep someone busy, but at the end of the day, the contents of the report may become quickly irrelevant. Additionally, it may be that the report itself is never read.

Assigning people to make-work is disrespectful to those asked to do it. While it keeps them busy, it also shows that there is little respect for the person’s skills and time. While people do like to be idle, they like even less to have their work disregarded, and to do work which they know will be disregarded.

If you find yourself assigning people to work for the sake of keeping them busy, you might be better off asking those same people what they would rather be doing – make-work, or to be left to their own devices until necessary work becomes available.