MHRC Book Review of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It by Cali Ressler & Jody Thompson


Who should read it?

  • Anyone who works as part of a team or manages one and wants to make work more flexible.
  • HR Specialists interested in culture change to support Agile Working.
  • D&I and Talent Management Specialists who want to promote flexible working in their organisations as an inclusion, attraction or retention strategy.

What’s it good for?

Generating ideas for how to move to a more flexible working culture. The book starts by looking at what’s wrong with current working practices (why work “sucks”) with insights such as: the way we measure work performance encourages presenteeism and the fact that while many of our assumptions about the way work gets/should get done are outmoded they’ve also been built up over generations and are now so ingrained they’re hard to shift.

The issue of changing culture is addressed with a discussion about ‘sludge’ – defined as “any negative comment we make that serves to reinforce old ideas about how work gets done”. The main problem with ‘sludge’ is that in making these comments people reinforce the existing culture and practices.

The book goes on to describe what a Results Only Work Environment or ROWE looks like and why it makes working life better. I particularly liked the observation “No time management seminar is ever going to solve the problem of people not having control over their time.”

What isn’t it good for?

While the authors have developed a ROWE accreditation scheme the book does not include a roadmap of how to get from your existing working culture and practices to a ROWE. The key aspects – time, getting work done, the role of managers, the place of meetings and what a ROWE culture looks like – are all described in detail. But you would need to figure out your own project plan if you depend on this book alone.

(In fairness I should state they do provide a vision for what a ROWE might look like with 13 guideposts. My favourite is No. 6: “Arriving at the workplace at 2:00pm is not considered coming in late. Leaving the workplace at 2:00pm is not considered leaving early.”)

How might it help you at work?

If you’re looking for more flexibility in your schedule – and have a job with the potential to allow that – then this book can provide you with sound ideas for getting there. What results will you focus on? How will you manage your time while ensuring no adverse impact on colleagues and clients?

Best tip picked up from it

The right question to ask yourself in a ROWE is “Am I doing what I need to do to meet my goals?” If the answer is yes then you’re on track, if no then start asking yourself “What do I need to do?” If you’re focused on achieving the results then your time is your own.

This is a smart strategy even if you’re not working in a ROWE and can help you refocus your efforts – we’re all surrounded by so many distractions these days.

How easy was it to read/get into?

It’s an easy book to read and each chapter concludes with a specific example of someone working a ROWE arrangement. Because chapters focus on specific issues it’s also easy to dip in and out and read what’s most relevant at the time. So – for example – you might begin by reading the early chapter on what’s wrong with current flexible working practices and one of the later chapters on the benefits of ROWE to give you ammunition for a persuasive argument for change. Then go back to the chapters on sludge, time management and working practices to help implement new ways of working.

Anything else?

The authors are very clear that Results Only Working is not the same as existing flexible working arrangements – which are often limited in scope and conditional on “good behaviour” or “good performance” at work. In a ROWE everyone gets to determine their own working arrangements (the options are ‘unlimited’ and ‘fluid’) so long as the results are produced and people remain accountable for their impact on work colleagues.

For details of how to become an accredited ROWE employer take a look at the website:

Written by:
Anna Meller
Director, Sustainable Working Ltd (