Work Pirates Crew
Unfucking work with Neil Usher
Updated: Oct 23, 2022
Great minds are Unf*cking Work alike in this month’s episode as James and Michelle are joined by Neil Usher, Chief Workplace and Change Strategist and author of the upcoming book Unf*cking Work: How to Fix Work for Good (yes, he’s on the same sweary mission as Work Pirates!). Read on to find out how this fellow Unf*cking Work advocate
What is the one thing you would do to unilaterally unfuck work?
It’s more generic than particular.
It’s to dismantle the symbolism of the phrases uttered daily in our working lives, without question, that have over decades created a suffocating mesh that stifles our freedom and creativity, eats away at our humanity, alienates us from one another and erodes our sense of purpose. They appear harmless enough on the face of it but they’re the very embodiment of fucked work, the foundation.
Yet in dismantling them our role isn’t to walk away from the rubble we leave behind in the process – a vacuum serves no-one – it’s to re-create them as positive, meaningful, human building blocks of a world of work we actually want to be part of.
We’re all involved – we’re all part of the problem, but that means we can therefore be part of the solution. All our action in this sense will be unilateral, but their combined effect can be seismic. We can’t wait for anyone else to start, we have to.
What is the best example of unfucking work you’ve seen in the wild?
I’d just arrived in a new corporate role. My boss had just finished leading a whole-team meeting, expending a huge amount of energy in doing so – and had just told me he had a huge amount to get through so was going to slip away and crack on with it. Just at that moment a junior member of the team approached him, worried and rather pale, needing help. My boss immediately put his laptop and papers down, and cheerfully suggested they grab a cup of tea next door to talk about it. There wasn’t a hint of how he was feeling, the pressure he was under – someone needed help, and he freely set off to give it. At that stage, in over 20 years of work, I’d never seen such behaviour before. It set the bar extremely high. I’ve tried to live up to it since.
Who is your unfucking work icon? The ultimate Work Pirate?
My collaborator and long-time friend Perry Timms. He’s not only campaigned to unfuck work for decades, but in creating and leading his HR advisory firm PTHR, he practices absolutely everything he advocates.
To this end he was a huge influence behind the idea for the book. For years we’ve lamented the amount of bullshit within industry we’ve held responsible for poor behaviour and fractured organisations. That and the fact that most business literature, while often well-intentioned, has never really changed much. As though no-one ever wanted to challenge anything too much. Just in case.
He and his amazing team – including my other collaborator on the book, Kirsten Buck – are always learning. This restless spirit means they’re constantly tweaking, adjusting, aware that their outfit is ever-evolving, never perfect, never finished. They’re a living lab.
Plus let’s not ignore the fact that they’re bloody good at what they do.
Recommend a book, podcast or article to our Work Pirates crew that made you think differently about work.
Unf*cking Work is the non-business business book. No charts, models, panaceas, paradigms, predictions, or silver bullets. No future of work predictions or over-confident trend spotting. No-one else is held responsible. I’ve dispensed with all the rules of writing business books that make so many of them so unbearably dull. Just to be transparent – I’ve written two already.
So it’s tough to be recommending a business book when most of them don’t even scratch the surface.
The book that inspired me most, however, for its spirited commentary on the age and irreverent take on humanity and motivation was the autobiography of Luke Haines, founder of the band The Auteurs – Bad Vibes: Britpop and my part in its downfall. It helps to agree that the band were one of the best thing to emerge from the 90s, amid unspeakable amounts of dross, but it's an incredible read for its pace, honesty and humour. It was a book about work, too. Making records and gigging is work.
But we’re not about downfalls here, we’re about re-building. All of us. Together. Unfucking is about fixing something. For good.
Find Neil on LinkedIn.
Pre-order Neil's book Unf*cking Work on Amazon.