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Good Work?

By on Jun 29, 2013 in Work |

I would contend there is a problem with modern work structures. I read and think a lot about work and the way we work and the assumptions we hold about work. It’s a theme that will undoubtedly be in many of these posts. The majority of people working in paid employment today in the West work long hours and primarily focused on earning money; money used mainly to spend on superfluous products or on servicing debt. The work ethos that dominates is one largely devoid of wider meaning and purpose, is focused on control, structure, separation and predominately about the ‘self’ – self-protection, self-assertion and self-expansion. Organisations largely focused on profit at the expense of any other societal value, have developed over the last 100 years to dictate and replicate this work pattern all over the world. Workers outside the West fair even worse. In search of greater profits, organisations have sought to locate in low cost locations, or source products from lower cost suppliers, creating a race to the bottom where people work in awful conditions and for less than a living wage. And yet this is the accepted paradigm. We need to work to earn our livelihoods and the frame of work we accept is working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week or frequently more, rarely questioning what we are contributing and often ignoring large dimensions of ourselves. Organisations are built to make profit and will operate to maximise that profit in the most efficient and effective way they can. It’s the way it is, it’s the norm. Perhaps it’s time to explore alternative visions of work… Writing originally in 1888, Morris argued that three ‘hopes’ make work worth doing: the hope of rest – rest enough and good enough to be worth having; the hope of produce – a product worth having; and the hope of pleasure – pleasure in the work itself and pleasure enough for all for us to be conscious of it while we are at work.[1] He goes on to explore that for labour to be attractive it must be directed towards some obviously useful end; work should be short; and there should be variety in work. Much of this is echoed by Schumacher writing ‘Good Work’ almost one hundred years later: “..we may derive the three purposes of human work as follows: First, to provide necessary and useful goods and services. Second, to enable every one of us to use and thereby perfect our gifts like good stewards. Third, to do so in service to, and in cooperation with others, so as to liberate ourselves from our inborn egocentricity.”[2] This suggests we need a vision of work that is more than just for earning a wage, but allows us to demonstrate our whole self in our work and work productively with others. We need to be cognoscente of our inner and outer work (Fox, 1994). Without the appropriate focus on the inner we will not be supplied the ‘heart food’ and something more spiritual and soul dies (ibid). I ask myself, ‘what’s not to like’? Surely abiding by some of these principles would be in the interests of everyone? And yet hard set worldviews and existing power and economic structures present large barriers to this in practice. I also wonder what the role of the responsible organisation is in all this. What role do they play in allowing our work and practices to be more meaningful? For over a hundred years authors and activists have been saying we need to think again about work and our relationship with work. So why aren’t we? All thoughts welcome…. [1] Morris, W. (2008). Useful Work Versus Useless Toil. pp 2 [2] Schumacher, E. F. (1980). Good Work. pp...

Meaning and work – Ted Talk by Dan Ariely

By on Jun 24, 2013 in Work |

Meaning and work – Ted Talk by Dan Ariely

The Moment by Margaret Atwood

By on Jun 21, 2013 in Ecology |

The moment when, after many years of hard work and a long voyage you stand in the centre of your room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this,   is the same moment when the trees unloose their soft arms from around you, the birds take back their language, the cliffs fissure and collapse, the air moves back from you like a wave and you can’t breathe.   No, they whisper. You own nothing. You were a visitor, time after time climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming. We never belonged to you. You never found us. It was always the other way round.   Margaret Atwood

Gender and inclusion – a radicalist view required

By on Jun 21, 2013 in Gender, Work |

I have a confession – I used to work in large corporates as a management consultant. When new mums came back to work and ask for part-time hours (3-4 days a week), my response was often lukewarm. I knew the demands from our clients and I knew the very competitive performance management regime and I thought they might find it hard. I have another confession – I have recently become a mum myself, and I want to go back to work 3 days a week and I’m faced with some interesting conversations of my own and I’m up against some challenging assumptions around what value can I add to a business in 3 days.   According to the BBC in a report from May 2012, women occupy on average 30.9% of the most senior positions across 11 key sectors, including business, politics and policing. Even more worryingly, according to the ‘Women on Boards’ report in 2010, women made up only 12.5% of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies.   But there is more to this debate than part time vs full-time hours or the number of women in high profile jobs. I think we are missing some very important balancing components by talking about ‘diversity’ in traditional ways. It is something that goes to the heart of identity and societal value.   Writing back in 1984, Judi Marshall mulled on her own issues relating to women in the workplace and specifically female identity in the workplace. Most interestingly for me were her descriptions of reformist feminist thought and ‘radicalist’ feminist thought. Reformists suggest the male world of activities and characteristics are tacitly used as a positive model to which women should aspire, i.e. women end up adopting tradition male ‘rationalist’ traits. Whereas, ‘radical’ feminists, would reject using men as a model for women, and to reaffirm women’s own sense of being.   Some work I have found equally illuminating is Bakan’s work on ‘agency’ and ‘communion’ (Bakan, 1966, cited in Marshall, 1984). The ‘Agency’ side of the spectrum is an expression of independence, control and self; whilst ‘Communion’ on the other hand, is a sense of being ‘at one’, in union and cooperation. The pervasive strategy we typically see in the workplace is the agentic strategy. However, the ideal position for both work and society in general is one of balanced and complimentary use of agentic and communal strategies.   Fletcher (2001) also suggests women have a different set of skills they draw on at work such as collaboration and supportive teamwork, but these get ‘disappeared’ as they become associated with the feminine. Along similar lines as Bakan’s ‘communion’, she argues that four types of relational practice get ‘disappeared’. Attributes such as – preserving, mutual empowerment, self-achieving and creating teams – are not held in the same esteem or regard as traditional ‘male’ attributes and attributes of the traditional workplace, such as competition and control.   These writers (and others) would suggest there is something ‘feminine’ missing in the modern work paradigm which leads to an unbalanced and unhealthy work environment and distorts the way we conceptualise work and the workplace.   I see this in my own experiences of fragmented attitudes to work. You hear talk of ‘leaving part of yourself outside of work’, a lack of ‘wholeness’.   And I don’t exclude men from this equation. I think there are probably many men who feel they would like to express some of these more ‘communal’, cooperating and nurturing attributes at work. I would propose many man are equally fragmented and frustrated with the current state of affairs.   So I look back at my former self, discussing part time returns to work and wonder was I right or wrong? Part of me thinks I was right – we live in a competitive, aggressive, money making world and you won’t achieve your full potential by returning part time.   But then another part of me thinks I have missed the point. By excluding alternative work practices and alternative life experiences of collaboration, tolerance, nurture and trust (typical communal characteristics) we are fragmented. Not only do we miss the opportunity to be ourselves, be truly authentic and realise our true potential; but we also miss the chance to change the paradigm and create a new frame within which we can all work to add greater societal value in a less fragmented, more balanced and more holistic...

Quote of the week

By on Jun 18, 2013 in Change |

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, its the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead