Labor Day Musings

A macro concept that underpins a lot of my thinking is “work,” most specifically how our definitions of work are drastically changed, yet apparently unrecognized by both the work ‘giver’ and the ‘doer.’

job boxes

job boxes

Employers (the ‘giver’) continue to look at work as segmented pieces or ‘job boxes’ that can be put together into an integrated whole by someone looking down from on high. While organizations continue to define “jobs,” what they really need is flexible project workers who use their brains to readily move from one work area to another.

Employees (the ‘doer’) continue to look at work as jobs defined by a description with a defined beginning and end. While workers continue to say, “It’s not my job,” what they really need is work that they recognize as a contribution and that engages their mind and spirit.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that I see the employer-employee relationship as–at the very least, dysfunctional, and maybe–at the most–irreparably broken. It is, in many (maybe most) organizations, a lose-lose relationship.

Employers continue to consider employees as commodities, and employees continue to see employers as economic lifelines. Employers see employees as interchangeable and as expenses… a ludicrous view in an economy driven by knowledge and service. Employees continue to see employers as their lifeline with only high-risk options for economic security. There is no joy, enjoyment or even much satisfaction in most work and workplaces.

intrinsic value

intrinsic value

What’s ignored by both parties is work’s intrinsic value: the value that drives the engagement and contribution of the worker. Without this, the enterprise “success” suffers–however that success is defined.

In the agrarian economy, work’s intrinsic value is continuity and contribution to the earth: tending to the growing cycles that foster abundance and replenish life stores.

In the trade / craft economy, work’s intrinsic value is using one’s talents and skill, contributing to the bigger needs of the community.

In the industrial economy, work’s intrinsic value is contributing the “piece” that makes the “whole,” and knowing the end result is better for the contribution. [Really? What happens when you can’t see your contribution because the “whole” changes so often?]



In the knowledge/service economy, work’s intrinsic value is knowing that one’s contribution makes a difference…through a creative approach, a new product that better cements customer loyalty, or a superior level of service that outshines the competition. In today’s organizations, there’s lots of talk about these things but the approvals and the second guessing and the need for control and the short-term focus on the next quarter’s financials prevent most workers from having any sense of their work’s value.

In today’s world of global competition and global economics, this lack of contribution is destroying the only assets that can compete in these arenas. As Earl Pitts used to say, “Wake up, America!”

Here’s my question for you: what does it take to move Givers and Doers toward a truly realistic expression of “work” in the 21st century? To let up on the antiquated management and control practices that may have worked in the assembly line environment but that truly smother and destroy workers today? To give up on the antiquated because-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way and it’s-our-policy-service mentality that reduces productivity to ruinous levels?

How will you make a difference?

How will you make a difference?

And here’s a personal question for you: What will you do, when you return to work after this holiday, to show the intrinsic value in your work contributions? Just one thing? How will you make a difference?

So how about adding to these Labor Day musings? What will it take to redefine “work” so it works for both employers and employees? Please leave a comment to further this conversation, and maybe by Labor Day 2010, we’ll see a shift that re-energizes “Labor Day!”

5 Responses

  1. For years there has a been a revolution in the making. It started with a few “well heeled” corporations who could afford expensive consultants to do cutting edge work. These wizards would survey the organization asking the question, “Who do you go to within the company if you need to get _______ work done?”
    The discovered insights would then convert to a hub and spoke looking chart ( that key managers could use when they wanted to get any serious work done. This chart would show WHO TO GO TO within the organization. It represented those with influence and power VERSUS a traditional Org Chart – which traditionally represents authority.
    Much of the frustration with the typical corporation is the dependence in the Authority (“giver” or assigner). Someone can be made the “giver” but that doesn’t make them a leader, an inspiring force to be respected, admired and followed. Said differently, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
    Enter the Social Networking revolution of Web 2.0. The explosion of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are techology bringing a harsh and bright 10,000 lumen light on the delta between the “giver” and the “doer”. How long before someone creates a web site that allows people to openly network/share information on the disconnect between “give” and “doer” right down to the guilty individuals … by name? Come on technology. You can do it. Down with the tyrants and the “Yours is not to question why, yours is only to do or die”. . . or “to die for the corporation is to live forever.” (smile)
    Janine. . . a great blog post.

  2. Thanks for your early morning brilliance, Kordell! What intriguing thoughts…how can we get them closer to the tipping point? Technology has changed the face of so many things, why not this one? What a masterful objective for social networking…let it begin.

  3. While reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point I came upon the story of W L Gore and Company – they make Goretex. If you’re not familiar with the story check this:
    They’ve been in the top 10 best companies to work for for over 25 years. They are hugely successful and extremely innovative. If they can do it, why don’t/won’t others? Control issues???

  4. Gore is a wonderful example of an organization that values the creativity and brains of their employees. For Gore, and a few others, their success is due directly to the engaged and aligned employees who work for them–as partners, not second-class citizens. Thanks for the reminder…hopefully others who stop by will read about the Gore organization.

  5. I hope lots of others stop by and read this! When you consider the complexity of Gore’s business and how they have thrived in this creative environment they created, can you imagine the possibilities for other businesses? I can; and I want to see more businesses getting really creative in rethinking their business model. The brick and mortar, butts in the seat, 8 to 5 mindset is growing older and older while the workforce is getting younger and younger. Businesses say they want flexibility and creativity but I know (and so do you) that those qualities do not flourish in a rigid structure.

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