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Good Work?

By on Jun 29, 2013 in Work |

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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 3