Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance


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Schlemiel is a Yiddish phrase that has been picked up by English speakers and is often used to describe an unlucky or perhaps a somewhat foolhardy person whose endeavors, no matter how hard they try, never seem to work out.   It is someone who would re-invent the wheel using a square template, all the while wondering why the wheel did not run smoothly, over and over and over.

The origins of the word, an old legend has it, came from an interesting tale. There was this young man who lived in the town of Enns, Austria, who decided to leave his young wife to study in a distant city. After he had been gone for 11 months his wife gave birth to a healthy young baby. The townspeople were all atwitter (yes, social networking existed back then), gossiping over the incident. The wise men of the village gathered and stated that due to her unquestioned piety, the event should not be regarded as suspicious, but rather as a case of delayed conception. The wisdom of the crowd prevailed over the ruling of the wise men for you see the name of the young man who left his wife to study abroad was Schlemiel (Shlumiel – alternative spelling).

Reading this story got me thinking about people today who make statements, often times over and over and over, which are simply not supported by the facts or even of a logical nature, but since they provide a point of view that others (at least some others), are looking for to support their pet theories or personal beliefs, they are stated and restated. I will limit myself to the HR/OD space, no matter how badly I want to expand out to other examples. Please, if you care to, join in and add to the list:

  • Pay is not a motivator of employee behavior or a driver of satisfaction
    • Corollary: Money doesn’t buy happiness
  • You have to pay CEO’s a lot in order to motivate them
  • This younger generation has different motivators at work, for instance they don’t care about job security
  • It is good to keep things somewhat chaotic at work, keeps people on their toes
  • Older workers are set in their ways and have a hard time learning new things
  • Older workers are settled in and don’t care as much about promotions or recognition as younger workers
  • Technical employees, like engineers are often more cynical at work
  • Organizations make decisions
  • Our selection system works really well, all of our employees are above average
  • Job enrichment leads to a higher level of job satisfaction
    • Corollary: People in repetitive jobs find the work boring

Whenever I hear such things I resist the urge to yell out “schlemiel” or worse. But I am also sure that others have opinions different than mine.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

May 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm

One Response

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  1. The term “Schlemazel” is the other side of “Schlemiel”. Schlamazels can’t catch a break; they’re always getting screwed.

    The typical example: The schlemiel is the waiter and spills the soup. It lands on the schlamazel. In organizations, both are well represented. Although it’s not the kind of thing you’d want to indicate on a job application.

    Daniel Baitch

    May 15, 2010 at 6:37 pm

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