Let’s talk about work

Work today (and tomorrow) requires more creativity and less formulaic intelligence and it also requires less of “us”. That’s less of our dedicated, full-time attention, with contract work becoming the new normal:

Littler Mendelson, one of the largest employment law firms in the country, predicted in a report last year titled “The Emerging New Workforce” that 50 percent of new jobs that emerge after the recession will be contingent positions, and as a result “as high as 35 percent of the work force will be made up of temporary workers, contractors or other project-based labor.”

Full-time work has not been the ticket to the good life for several decades:

The prolonged period of economic prosperity that Canada has enjoyed resulted in a 72-per-cent increase in economic output between 1975 and 2005, growth that has continued since, it [the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives] noted.

The benefits of the growth, however, have not been reflected in workers’ paycheques, it added. “Canadians’ average real wages, which are wages adjusted for inflation, have not increased in more than 30 years.”

In a networked, knowledge-based economy where initiative, creativity and passion trump intellect, diligence and obedience; being “at” work 8 hours a day makes little sense. The Internet makes “time at work”, an antiquated notion. It also makes many of our traditional management and personnel policies irrelevant. The recession has only amplified this trend.

What can we do?

Most intelligent people know that there is no such thing as a job for life. Corporations have shown that loyalty to the enterprise does not work both ways. Organization should look at how they can structure to take advantage of these workplace changes. The first part is to stop thinking like a hierarchy, with titles and reporting relationships, and start framing the enterprise in terms of networks. Mapping value networks is a start, as is talking about social networks and supporting them through the use of social media. If you look at work differently and talk about it differently, then new conversations and attitudes will result.

Here are some ideas, for starters:

Abolish the organization chart and replace it with a network diagram.

Move away from counting hours, to a results oriented work environment

Encourage outside work that doesn’t directly interfere with paid work, as it will strengthen the network

Provide options for workers to come and go and give them ways to stay connected when they’re not employed. Build an ecosystem, not a monolith.

4 Responses to “Let’s talk about work”

  1. virginia Yonkers

    As I read this, what strikes me is that the regulatory and organizational frameworks have not kept up with the changes in the workplace. Specifically:

    1) How do workers get compensated for their work? Giving workers an hourly wage does not seem to be justified. However, what should be the basis for compensation?

    2) Companies have the advantage and ability to limit a worker. Current intellictual property laws will limit the individual worker when they leave an organization, not allowing them to bring their skills to a competing organization when they are cut by their current employers. How can an employee’s network and skills (the thing that makes them employable) be protected and allowed to be portable?

    3) Equal pay for equal work takes on a new meaning. How and who will evaluate “equal work” and who and how will “equal pay” be established?

    4) What employeement status will employees who work off site be given? Are they employees? Contractors? Or should there be a new designation such as in-home or remote workers? What are the tax/benefit implications? What new services will be needed to support these remore staff members? For example, what grievence processes need to be established in case of conflict? Whose (employment) laws should govern employee rights?

    • Harold Jarche

      I’ve called salaried work, “indentured servitude”, and the deck is stacked against the employee, especially when it comes to intellectual property. That’s why it’s a bit easier as a contractor, because the client owns the results but not the processes that enabled them. The law, and management structures, have a long way to catch up, but we can start lobbying for change now.

  2. Jon Husband

    There is a large and mostly invisible infrastructure of employment (and employment-related) legislation that for the most part will present obstacles to (a) more flexible and responsive vision(s).

    Here’s just one relatively obvious example. Job evaluation methods (the ‘measurement’ of the size, weight, importance of a job) derives directly from, and reinforces fundamental Taylorist hierarchy. How we look at and ‘measure” jobs should change, and perhaps quite a bit, in an interconnected and networked environment.

    BUT … there is a federal law (in the USA, Canada and I think most if not all western European countries) mandating Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value. Guess what establishes ‘equal value” ? And what’s more, the generic job measurement factors contained in every job evaluation method (Skill, Effort, Responsibility and Working Conditions) are directly cited / referred to in the EPWEV legislation.

    The HR world and HR management methods are almost entirely comprised of pre-network core assumptions about work, how it’s done, how it’s managed and why / how people are motivated to work.

    Can o’ worms, meet Gordian Knot 😉


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