Each Tuesday I take the top voted question from readers and answer it. With 146 votes, this week’s winner was from James:
When a system is broken at work, should you work to fix the system, game the system, or avoid the system?
It depends! Do you like your job? Do you like your community? If yes, you should naturally work to fix. If you don’t, you should quit your job or move before you start quitting your ethics (I’ve written previously on Why We Accept Bad Systems and you might want to peak at that post before reading on). Here are three answers to your three options:
- Work to fix the system. If you haven’t quit working to fix the system makes the most sense. But is the system in question your responsibility? If yes, I’d ask how the system got broken in the first place as you’ll want to know that before you go about trying to fix it (See What To Do When Things Go Wrong). If it’s not your responsibility, it’s still your job to notify whoever is in charge that there’s a problem that’s in their interest to solve and to help if you can. If the broken system prevented me from doing my job well, I’d petition my boss to help get it fixed and/or work on fixing it myself. If I can’t petition my boss, what other sources of influence are there?
- Game the system. Game is a funny word. It could mean anything from bending the letter of the law to deliver on the spirit of the law, which I’d approve of, to blatant theft and cheating, which I wouldn’t. A good question is who benefits from manipulating the system: the customer? Your coworkers and the organization? Or just you? If you’re only thinking of benefiting yourself you should look for a new job where you care more about your coworkers and customers. If you don’t, your coworkers would be wise to think about how to avoid working with you, or to perhaps how to fix the system so someone like you doesn’t get rewarded for gaming the system.
- Avoid the system. On principle I’d avoid as many systems as possible if they weren’t necessary for doing going work. But I’d do it carefully, and with the support of my boss, coworkers and community when I could. Ideally my avoidance of a system could lead to it’s revision or elimination for everyone. But If I was continually disregarding my boss, or the local rules, working behind their back, I’d be setting myself up to fail. Even if I was successful on the project at hand, when they discovered I’d gone around their authority I’d lose their trust in the future. On the contrary, if I avoided a system with their support, and delivered great results, progress become possible. But always remember avoiding a system is a kind of gaming the system from the point of view of whoever’s job it is to run the system (perhaps a peer of your boss). Ignoring a rule someone cares about must be done with the knowledge that at some point you will be found out: the question is, what will you be able to say then about what you were doing and why?