The two tribes of working life

PERHAPS THEY are two of the most welcome words in the English language: “Meeting cancelled”. When they cropped up in Bartleby’s message the other day, he experienced a brief moment of elation. In truth, the meeting turned out only to be postponed for two weeks, but procrastination is an underappreciated pleasure.

Workers, and possibly all people, can be divided into two groups. Those who like to be involved in everything and can be dubbed “FOMOs” because they suffer from a “fear of missing out”. And then there are those who would ideally want to be left to get on with their own particular work, without distraction—the “JOMOs” (joy of missing out).

When The Economist moved offices in London in 2017, the new building came with a set of meeting spaces. As was inevitable, there are a lot more meetings. It is hard to walk by these gatherings without wondering who these people are and what they are doing. (It mostly seems to involve them gazing earnestly at a projection of a computer screen.) Never once has Bartleby, who was born under the sign of JOMO, wanted to join one of the groups.

Readers will instantly know their tribe. If the boss announces a new project, do you immediately volunteer, thinking this will be a great chance to prove your skills? If so, you are a FOMO. Or do you foresee the hassle involved, the likely failure of the project, and the weekend emails from all the FOMOs wanting to spend less time with their families? Then you are a certified JOMO.

Another test is technology. FOMOs are early adopters, snapping up the latest gadgets and sending documents to colleagues via the latest file-sharing programme. JOMOs tend to believe that any tech upgrade will be initially troublesome and wonder why on earth their colleagues can’t send the document as a PDF.

FOMOs relish the chance to take part in a videoconference call so they can share fully in the dynamics of the meeting and not miss any clues about the participants’ long-term agenda. JOMOs deeply resent the video element, which prevents them from checking their emails or playing solitaire while Ted drones on about budgets for 20 minutes.

Networking events are the kind of thing that gets FOMOs excited as a chance to exchange ideas and make contacts. When JOMOs hear the word “networking”, they reach for their noise-cancelling headphones. For them, being made to attend an industry cocktail party is rather like being obliged to attend the wedding of someone they barely know; an extended session of social purgatory.

Similarly, FOMOs see a breakfast meeting as a chance to start the day on a positive note. They would hate to turn one down in case they lost business or the chance of career advancement. JOMOs resent setting their alarm earlier and would rather breakfast at their kitchen table, grumbling about the news headlines to their spouse. If it is a work meeting, then hold it during working hours.

As for business travel, FOMOs can’t wait to experience the delight of overseas conferences and visiting new places. It will all look good on their curriculum vitae. JOMOs know that such travel involves cramped airline seats, jet lag and a long shuffle through immigration. The final destination tends not to be some exotic location but an identikit conference centre or hotel that they forget five minutes after they have departed.

JOMOs recognise that they have to attend some meetings and go on trips to get their work done. But they regard such things as a penance not a privilege. Something useful may come out of it, but best not to get their hopes up.

It might seem obvious that employers should look to hire FOMOs, not their opposites. After all, in a company full of JOMOs, sales might suffer and there would be little innovation. But while FOMOs are racing from meeting to networking event, you need a few JOMOs to be doing actual work. If FOMOs are like dogs, barking excitedly and chasing their own tails, JOMOs are more feline. They will spring into action if a mouse is in the vicinity but, in the meantime, they are content to sit by the fire.

The other reason why depending on FOMOs is dangerous is that they are naturally restless. JOMOs will be loyal, for fear of ending up with a worse employer. But FOMOs may think that working for one company means they are missing out on better conditions at another. That is the point of most networking, after all.

This post was originally posted at https://www.economist.com/business/2019/01/30/the-two-tribes-of-working-life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *