The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

I've just started to read The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton. It's a very entertaining book not least because he appears to me to have such a tongue in cheek attitude to his subjects. The sort of innocent way he almost pokes fun at the seriousness of the workers he meets is delightful although I am surprised that he got permission to publish names.

The United Biscuits' story works well as a case study in job design – and also prompts me to go out and try Moments – which I never have as I'm not a biscuit (cookie) eater but the story of how they got their name and are made merits at least a taste test. Working at British Airways I was close to Hayes, where the factory is, and sometimes passed it on the train – the smell of the baking was like a tunnel the train passed through.

The closest I've come to working in such an organization was when I was at university and spent the summer vacation working as a temp secretary in the Hovis factory in Rotherham. I remember next to nothing about it, except that employees got a free loaf of bread each day. And another summer I spent in France in a bottling factory putting the silver braid around bottles filled with fruit in brandy – workers did not get any free product there.

He also visited Ernst and Young, the other chapter that I've read so far, although for some reason he never mentions its name always calling it the accounting firm. However the name appears in one of the photos beside the text. I have been in the building he describes and having worked for Price Waterhouse myself am also familiar with the whole audit process – worked over in the book with his uncanny eye for both the ridiculous and the real. This chapter focuses on the role of HR in keeping staff displaying energy, enthusiasm, and integrity. And then there's the description of his meeting with the senior partner – in both instances what's not said seems to be spoken as loud as what it.

In the two chapters I've read so far he captures organizational life to a tee – but he doesn't offer suggestions for different or improved versions. It's all more of a baffled shake of the head and a kind of 'why do they do this?' curiosity – as if he's trying to make sense out of nonsense. I found myself laughing. But then again I thought I could easily use the studies in my organization design workshops.