Work isn’t working. We all love to hate our jobs. We wallow in daily mediocrity and are fed up with the stifling bureaucracy that surrounds our jobs. Work is no longer interesting. It no longer satisfies employees, makes Millenials more defiant, and retirement is considered as the only raison d’être.
Work through passion
We’re used to looking at work as an awful and painful effort. Even the word labour (from Latin labor) means exertion, struggle, and childbirth! But the contemporary age is trying to see work in a new light, as something that contributes to personal happiness and not just a pursuit to put bread on the table. This topic has been broached by French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who suggested that work could take on new meaning with the development of technologies and increasing scarcity of jobs. Several studies have found that Generation Z is enthusiastic about startups. In fact, according to CNN, a whopping 55% of Gen Z’ers were eager to start their own company. Startups are considered an ideal and transform an individual’s work, something big companies can no longer offer. Young workers today are eager to bring passion back into their work.
They deserve better
The end of the golden age of industrialisation and the emergence of new human needs are at a crossroads today. This raises several questions. What will work look like in the future? What challenges must we overcome to go beyond the current work model?
Needless to say, the biggest challenge related to work stems from the structural problem of unemployment. The European Union unemployment rate is languishing at 10%; the 20th century’s full employment era is a distant dream today. In developed countries, politicians of all stripes are looking into this problem and are not sure whether to make the job market more secure or flexible.
In addition to these political signals, there is also disillusionment with traditional companies. The younger generation fears today’s lack of job security and often feels neglected; in 2014, the number of part-time and fixed-term contracts (49.6% of the working population in the Netherlands and 28.3% of the working population in Poland, respectively) have reached new heights worldwide. This disillusionment, theorized in Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation A, is manifested across social networks. Workforces around the world are standing up for themselves and protesting against corporate abuse, an example being the French social movement On vaut mieux que ça (We are worth more than this).
This disillusionment has led to the rise of new approaches, which separates work and company. According to the Intuit report, 40% of workers in the United States, roughly 60 million people, will be freelancers by 2020. These new professionals will, without a doubt, depend on digital technologies: freelance marketplaces are aplenty, for example, Upwork. The possibilities today are endless; working for a company is no longer the only available option.
In Japan, the world’s first robot-run farm produces 50,000 lettuces per day
In this day and age, individuals are likely to place their aspirations at the heart of their professional lives and balance out their power relationships with companies. Companies that neglect these signals are bound to face new difficulties: they risk employee disengagement and disillusionment. Disengagement is defined as the loss of the emotional ties that individuals maintain with their companies. This consists of loss of interest, fatigue, and lack of motivation. According to Gallup, disengagement costs American companies anywhere from 450 to 550 billion dollars per year. A recent study of theirs estimates that about 87% of employees worldwide feel disengaged from their jobs.
At the same time the robot revolution, the result of automation and robotization, is under way. The global industrial robotics market should attain a value of 79.58 billion dollars by 2022. According to various studies, 40%-60% of a job can be automated – Chinese TV station Shanghai Dragon TV replaced its meteorologist with artificial intelligence; in Japan, the world’s first robot-run farm produces 50,000 lettuces per day. Contrary to what Josef Engelberger, the father of robotics, imagined, this revolution will affect all jobs, from the simplest to the most complex ones. Robots already assist surgeons and are also learning to become journalists.
More time for creativity tomorrow?
We should stop looking at automation as a threat. We have to keep in mind that humans created robots as a way to free humankind.
In the future, work must allow everyone to fulfil their personal ambition, and also contribute to the polis or society. This is illustrated by philosopher Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition, where she describes the vita activa and its three components: labour, work, and action. According to Arendt, vocation is the result of the capacity of humans to express their individuality, uniqueness, and talents.
The challenge lies in identifying and
honing our talents
For each one of us, the challenge lies in identifying and honing our talents. This is probably the main role that managers and HR must take on in the future, guiding employees in the process. But this isn’t enough. Just as how Professor Xavier tries to determine the potential of each of his mutants in X-men, one must match their own talents with those of others to successfully carry out a project. Human Resources must move away from a competition-based model to a more collaboration-based model for employees. Initiatives such as this are already in place in the corporate world. In addition to Procter & Gamble’s innovation platform, Connect & Develop, France has brought together Human Resources agents with Lab RH, which claims to be the “collective lab of HR innovation agents”. This large panel of HR agents (some even being competitors) encourages the exchange of ideas to improve the HR industry.
Finally, individuals will be led to work on themselves – the robot revolution will see to that. In How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, author Michael J. Gelb explains that individuals of the future must be both creative and creators. Da Vinci, the first slasher in history, had multiple talents: he was an artist, inventor, architect, and philosopher, among many other things. Individuals will have to get their creative juices flowing, as all repetitive and deterministic tasks will be carried out by robots. They will have to be creators, as data proliferation will compel them to stop repeating information and encourage knowledge creation.
This raises some burning questions: Can everyone be creative? Can everyone create something that is useful for the community? And finally, how can artificial intelligence address human shortcomings?
The three “W’s”
How do we go from work that is beset by automation, creates disillusionment and disengagement, to collaborative and creative work? The answer lies in rethinking our vision of the three pillars of work: workforce, workflow and workspace.
Workforce: Moving towards a sharing economy
Human resources have changed. A company no longer “has” a workforce. From now on, talents will choose to contribute collectively to a project that will be part of their vocation. According to Philippe Honigman, who specialised in decentralising work in the Backfeed project, 40% of jobs will be non-salaried by 2020. The HR of the future will have to become casting agents, with HRD playing the role of the casting director. A dream team will be decided upon for each new project. Consequently, the challenge lies in engaging and rallying individuals and overcoming the short-lived nature of a team, while compensation takes a back seat when choosing a project. Some companies have already shifted to this model. For example, Pixar puts together a new team for every film. The director selects team members according to their varying skills: artists, musicians, graphic designers, etc. Everything is decentralised. The Brain Trust team, which is made up of several senior directors and co-founders, oversees development on all movies and deals with any problems that may arise.
Workflow: An HR blockchain
All the previously mentioned changes have one goal in common: empowering individuals. The digital world helps better share skills and power. We are in the process of shifting from a vertical hierarchical model to a more horizontal one. As Tim O’Reilly puts it, platforms are replacing the top-down hierarchy with flat networks that are coordinated by software. For this, the blockchain opens up a fresh perspective and may be an initial response to the following question: How will we collectively interact as part of our work in the future?
Blockchain, closely related to Bitcoin, is a storage and data transmission low-cost technology, which is decentralised and completely secure. It is a database to build consensus without third parties or regulatory authorities. From a Human Resources point of view, blockchain encourages thinking about the company of the future. Seeing as wage labour is coming to an end and that permanent contracts are essentially extinct, how can we get individuals to interact when we have no authority over them, whether in terms of their timing, their space, or the way they work? By letting go and giving them more authority. Several initiatives are already being undertaken, especially by Backfeed and Accor, who launched a “Shadow Comex” in January 2016. Ten days prior to the real executive board meeting, a group of 11 young employees gather to discuss digital technology and make some suggestions.
These new organisations also reflect a paradigm change in the reward system. As previously mentioned, employees no longer work just to bring home the bacon. A recent Unify survey revealed that 43% of employees would choose “flex work over pay raise”. Several startups today also offer unlimited leaves. Blockchain allows for creating flexible employees who are financially less dependent on the company.
Workspace: The era of asynchronous work
We find this freedom in the spatio-temporal component of work. We have fully embraced the era of asynchronous work. Spatio-temporal barriers have been broken down and the an employee’s personal-professional relationships are increasingly intertwined. Individuals will now choose when and how to work. We’ve come a long way from the shackles of company policies. For example, Github, a collaborative platform for developers, already operates without set working hours. The company can no longer make their employees stay at work from 9:00 to 19:00. This new model is also the answer to a more serious problem: work doesn’t happen at work. Interruptions in the workplace are a real issue—employees lose between 3 and 5 hours of productivity per day. The workspace will now be defined by the merging of, synchronous or asynchronous, real or virtual, group contributions to pursue a common goal over a given period of time. In this respect, the notion of a “third place” is interesting: a third place is a place where individuals go to work because they feel better there than in their cubicles (cafés, libraries, coworking spaces, fablabs, etc.). It is a neutral place that is agreed upon by everyone and must be taken into consideration in the office layout. Maya Design, a New York-based agency, has created “neighbourhoods”, or workspaces, that bring together individuals from different departments in order to encourage collaboration. Finally, a workspace is no longer a place, it is the road we take to attain a common goal.
Changing your point of view
Unemployment, digital revolution, collaboration, and empowerment of individuals are all factors that relentlessly push us to rebuild our view of work. The good news is that work as we know it will disappear and make way for an opportunity to successfully pursue and fulfil our calling. Instead of working to live, it is high time to reverse the trend and start living to work!