McKinsey is giving professional services firms the usual advice for hard times: Cut costs.
But neuroscientists are going a step further. They are telling us in the professional class that if we take back some of those physically demanding tasks from vendors our rate of depression might plunge and our sense of well-being skyrocket. We heavy-cognitive types, particularly attorneys and writers, are known for our sundry mood disorders and unsunny mindsets. Recommendation: Law firms scouting around for ways to save money fire the cleaning service and rotate this and other sweaty jobs around the firm.
In the August/September issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND, there is a breakthrough article correlating the epidemic rise of clinical depression globally with the phasing out of backbreaking work. The author neuroscientist and psychologist Kelly Lambert explains how the human brain is hardwired for the need to engage in "physical effort." Running off to the gym won't cut it. The effort has to produce "something tangible, visible and - this fact is extremely important - meaningful." We can all vividly remember gazing with tremendous satisfaction at the room we just cleaned up, cleaned out, or painted. Yeah, it lifted our spirits.
Lambert is just connecting the dots. Those in rehabilitation centers which got results, for instance, always knew the power of putting "clients" to work. At Highwatch, a recovery house for alcoholics in Connecticut, everyone pitches in scouring johns, mopping floors and getting tons of laundry done. This therapy is meant to serve as lots more than just a spiritual exercise in humility. Alcoholics Anonymous, which is associated with Highwatch, has a mantra: Move a muscle, change a thought. This is also the basis of Cognitive Therapy whose results are so fantastic that this treatment approach was the cover story for FORBES April 9, 2007 issue.
Will members of the law firm sue for being put to work? Not if the pitching-in is positioned right. During the Iacocca-led turnaround of Chrysler, we didn't mind cleaning up the offices. After all, it was all part of saving American industry.