There’s a Reason It’s Called “The Bare Minimum”

At some point in the progression of our evolution, we lost the ability to view survival as a goal in and of itself.  For most of our history, the desire for most human beings was to scrape out a living for oneself and find as much safety and security as possible while maintaining as close to the kind of life we wanted to live as possible.  In this modern era, however, the attitude of “just getting by” has been replaced by unbridled ambition, and this ideology of maximal effort has pervaded the viewpoints of all those who are in positions to make decisions.

When did it become not acceptable to simply do the bare minimum?  The very phrase itself has come to take a negative connotation, indicating that a person is lazy and unreliable and should be regarded with disdain.  It doesn’t matter whether the person does the job they were hired to do, or even if they do it well.  If the person isn’t “showing initiative” or “taking on more responsibilities”, we tend to see them as a drain rather than an asset.

The interesting thing about this is that the word “minimum” in the context of business means the lowest acceptable effort or quality for a given result.  It is ironic then that when an employee comes in to work every day, does what they are asked, and then goes home when the day is done that employers tend to look at them not as reliable employees who get the job done, but as lazy leeches who are doing just enough to get paid.  Rather than valuing the fact that they are getting what they asked for, they resent that the person isn’t putting forth any more effort than what was agreed to.

This is the problem with the business world today.  Just as we as consumers are trying to find the best deals on the products we want to buy, employers are trying to find the best deals on labor.  They aren’t interested in a truly fair deal; what they really want is to be able to pay an employee for a job with less responsibilities while at the same time expecting them to volunteer to do the tasks associated with a higher paying position.  The excuse is that they want the employee to prove they can handle the job, but in reality the deeper issue is a desire to get discounted labor while avoiding the risk of hiring them at the full pay rate.  We know this to be true because we understand that if the employee doesn’t ask for a promotion, we expect that most employers aren’t going to just offer up more money on their own.  They are happy to pay less for the same product.

For myself, I resigned myself to a bare minimum mindset when it came to my career many years ago.  I came to realize that those people who are in charge never truly have my best interests at heart, and I could put a great deal of effort into a job where I end up giving away my labor for the benefit of a company whose primary goal is making money for itself.  Why should I slave away for a company to enrich them while I languish at the bottom hoping they notice me enough to move me up the ladder?  You can slave away for years waiting for an opportunity that might never come.

In the end, many people who choose a bare minimum career mindset aren’t bad or lazy people.  We all have different priorities, and for some of us it is more important to have our free time than it is to spend our entire life working for something that just ends up making us more miserable.  My goal has always been to make just enough so that I have the things that I want and no more.  The more money you make, the more effort you must put into things you likely have no passion for.  Is the money really worth all that, or can you find better ways to spend your time?

The unfortunate truth, however, is that the business world works a certain way, and this attitude will never be something that becomes accepted by employers.  They want you to work hard for them so they can get their money’s worth out of you, regardless of whether or not you agree with where they set that bar.  Just like you, they want a fair deal, just one that is fair in their view rather than yours.  Never forget that earning money is a war between you and those whom you want to give it to you.  Great care is required to make sure you’re getting what you want out of the relationship and to avoid submitting to theirs.

How do you feel about minimal effort?  Does it make you feel bad, or are other things more important than making money?  Do you regard people who do just enough to get by as a negative or positive?  If we can understand that not everyone has a desire to be what society calls successful, we can stop treating people who don’t live up to our own personal metric of acceptable effort with disdain and understand that some people just want to do their job and go home.  Is there really anything wrong with that?

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