I was listening to Andy Hines speaking the other day. He describes himself as an 'academic futurist' (great job title, I think). He's written an article 'A Dozen Surprises About the Future of Work'. In the session he focused on the surprise that 'workers prefer working to live instead of living to work', a concept he developed in the paper 'The end of work as we know it'. He suggested three key assumptions about work and asked us to consider our position on these:
1 Work is central to individual identity
I thought this a pretty interesting assumption as it came hot on the heels of my own team who in our weekly report, the challenges section, posted: 'trying to stop Naomi working on her annual leave.' This is not the first time they have challenged my work patterns but in my case my work is central to my individual identity and it is also a personal interest –I'm fascinated by the complexity of organisational functioning and I'm very fortunate to have paid employment for what I love doing. However, according to Almuth McDowall, a researcher on work/life balance 'Most of us aspire to have our work and personal sphere 'in sync' and balance has become the buzzword … in an ideal world, most people would like their output assessed by the results they achieve at work and not by the hours they spend slaving away at their desk, which in turn would leave them free to pursue their personal interests outside work'. By this definition 'personal interests' are not work. This is an assumption worth challenging.
2 Work structures daily life
I do think work structures daily life. I was talking with a friend the other day who was laid off a year ago and has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to find paid work. Job hunting structures her daily life and she is working hard at finding a job. Regardless of payment work structures daily life – ironing for example is unpaid if we do it ourselves and paid if we employ someone to do it. In both cases it is work and has to be planned into our day. I think it is difficult to challenge this assumption if we take as a definition of work that it is 'an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result'.
3 Work is a primary source of income
In western society unless you have inherited wealth or are retired on a pension (in which case your work was a primary source of income in most cases) or you are on social security benefits of some type then work – as a money generator – is a primary source of income. In this case you are using a definition of work along the lines of 'an activity, such as a job, that a person uses physical or mental effort to do, usually for money' But is 'income' only about money?
This is an interesting one. In many workplaces talented people are bartering their talent for a work package that they want – fewer hours, flexible hours, working off site, etc. Money is not a primary driver for working. Their 'income' includes non-monetary benefits. Is the definition of 'income' changing and is it fine that talented and sought after people with scarce skills can barter for the income (monetary and non-monetary) they seek?
What about other talented people whose skills are equally necessary but less valued: nursing and care working are cases in point? Many are unable to get a money income that sustains them let alone an additional non-money income. (Read the 'living wage' debate – in the UK Parliament here. Scroll down to 3.15 p.m). The complexity around this assumption is the relationship of reward to effort/skill in the workplace.
So, what is 'work'? Is it linked to identity? Does it structure daily life? Is it a primary source of income? What's your position on these 3 assumptions about work? How does your position inform your organisation design practice? Let me know.