Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Work

Two books have crossed our path recently which raise some pressing and pertinent questions about the evolving world of work.

The first, â??Why Work is Weirdâ?? by Jerry Connor and Lee Sears, question the cost of on-message cultures for the individual, and looks at how many organisations develop immune systems which expel or isolate those who don’t fit the OnBrand template. But does this immune system always work in the best interests of the organisation trying to make headway in the knowledge based creative economy? They note that “for many successful people, the very thing that ensured they rose through the ranks are now undermining their levels of happiness and limiting their effectiveness.” By forcing employees to conform to corporate culture, (either through deliberate manipulation and incentives, or system led natural selection), organisations are effectively closing down a major asset of their human capability – to think beyond ‘how we do things here’ and imagine new, better ways of doing things. This needn’t be an ‘either – or’ situation, but organisations need to start thinking about how they can maintain focus and direction without oppressing the creative capacity of the individual. Making a commitment to ‘thinking OffBrand’ and a culture where ‘off-message’ is o.k, is a small step in that direction.

Also addressing this idea of ‘usefulness’ in the workplace is â??The Culture of the New Capitalismâ?? by Richard Sennett. He notes that as capitalism continues on its path to maximum profit, we are now starting to do more with less, (factor in automation, export of labour, and increasingly light transient industries), which raises important question about how the increasing workforce can remain ‘useful’. I would argue that it is in this context that the independent ‘OffBrand’ worker will flourish – the person able to think beyond or outside the organisation in which they work and see new potential and possibilities – and the corporate automatons will increasingly struggle.

It also raises important questions about why we work and how long we want to work for. With an ageing population, which will have to be financially self-sustaining for much longer than the current 65yrs, we might want to think about how the workplace can become a more pleasant place for the individual (creative autonomy anyone?) and also how we can create a better, more sustainable relation between our work and social lives. To that end, the â??Weekend Reform Partyâ?? may offer some solutions – a self proclaimed panacea for all ills.

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