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?]

contributions

contributions

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!”

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