December 30, 2019

The turning of a new decade is the right time for fresh thinking about work.

While a certain sub-bubble of Twitter has spent the Christmas period arguing about the wisdom of working 80 hours a week to achieve success, I think it’s time, at this point of reflection on the past and hope for the future, for more nuance in how we think about work.

There are so many assumptions wrapped up in how people respond to the question of whether 80-hour work weeks are exploitative or laudable:

  • the definitions of success and work;
  • the dignity of the individual;
  • the level of free-will enjoyed by employees in our Western capitalist system;
  • the utility of these yes-no discussions of complex issues on social media platforms.

I was going to go into this in more detail, but reading about it all I just became discouraged.

It doesn’t matter if you’re on one side or other of this binary choice. What matters is whether you think that a binary choice gets us closer to a point of understanding. I’d argue that it doesn’t.

With Workio, we’re introducing grey areas, nuance, subtlety, and context into how we think about, talk about, and understand company culture and work.

There’s no way of thinking about work which is ‘right’ for everyone.

Our insight is that different employees want different things from work.

This insight is so trite it shouldn’t really qualify as such, but I guess it’s illustrative of the kind of world we live in that nuance is radical.

Some people thrive in a demanding, competitive, aggressive environment.

Some people thrive in a collegiate, caring, supportive environment.

Let’s acknowledge and celebrate this and the many other different preferences workers have. We can use these differences to everyone’s advantage if we deeply understand the different environments within different organisations, and also understand what different employees, or groups of employees, want at work.

For far too long, we’ve lived in a world of work that is a hangover from our industrial history, where people were physical labour in the truest sense of the phrase. Workers were machine-like in the work they did. As such, more hours generally meant more production.

Now that much production in developed economies is the result of mental, often creative work, more hours does not mean more production. Value has moved from quantity to quality. It’s better to design one iPhone really well than three mediocre separate phones, although you could say the latter is ‘more productive’.

This feels like a moment where we cross a threshold in thinking about one of the core activities of humanity.

In religion, freedom of worship and tolerance of difference has been established (though never perfectly) for a few hundred years now in Europe and North America at least. This way of thinking about a key part of the experience of being human was a breakthrough following thousands of years of binary thinking and harsh consequences for those who believed and worshipped differently from the officially sanctioned religion.

In love, most of the developed world now accepts, and even celebrates, a much wider variety of love than was previously allowed. Gay marriage is the key example of course.

In both religion and love, openness to alternatives moved us beyond the stale and damaging ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ mental models we had before.

Now it’s work’s turn to become enlightened.

Understanding that work can be many different things depending on the context in which it happens is the first step to working with that difference and making the most of it.

Clear competition between different types of working environment and company culture would be fascinating, and beneficial to workers who could then make informed decisions about how they wish to work.

Workio is dedicated to helping organisations discover their real company culture, and make the most of it in 2020 (and beyond).

We believe the time has come for the work enlightenment - join us to spread the word and make the new decade a truly groundbreaking one for how we all work.

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