I read another article yesterday about new meanings of work and how organizations need to start offering people new or different solutions and ways of working to better meet their preferences and needs. I always do a little victory dance (okay, not literally) when I see articles like this. For one it sort of confirms that I’m on to something, but more importantly, it supports my argument that things are finally happening on that front. We are at a crossroads of sorts and now is the time to redefine work as we know it. And the best thing about this is that we can all be involved in this change together.
One thing struck me, though, when reading this article. Although the arguments were good and valid, they really didn’t offer much in the way of concrete solutions or ideas for how this change is going to happen. Or indeed what these new solutions for work could be. And to be honest, I get that a lot too.
The thing is, these new solutions need to be developed together. In other words I have no quick ready-made solutions that organizations can instantly adopt. After all, we’re breaking new ground here. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the changes we need really aren’t that major. When people opt out, it isn’t that they don’t want to work, it’s that they don’t want to work the way that they have been. The biggest problem in the jobs they opted out of was that they lacked a sense of control over their lives and their time.
I’m sometimes approached by career coaches who help people find their true self and calling, wondering if we could perhaps work together somehow. I’m all for coaching, I think that coaches do very valuable work and help a lot of people in many different ways. However, in my research I have found that the biggest problem for people who opt out is not that the job they did wasn’t their true calling. Rather it’s the structures and working cultures that cause a lack of coherence and agency (a feeling that one has very little power and control to affect one’s situation), which in turn has a negative effect on wellbeing. After having opted out and in to a new lifestyle and way of working, they report feeling like they are finally doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, which could be understood as a true calling. However this sense of authenticity really isn’t about the job they’re doing, it’s actually a result of finally being able to control their time better; that they can be themselves and don’t have to hide certain aspects (like children who are generally expected to be kept invisible in the corporate sphere, especially for women); and of the sense of coherence that they get because they have more control. In fact, most of them loved what they did before, that really wasn’t the main problem.
So the change that I’m calling for isn’t a change in tasks or areas of responsibility, or even workload. It’s rather a change in systems and policies that allow for more autonomy and control over when, where, and how people work. This means different solutions for different people – some want more autonomy and some want less – but that really shouldn’t be impossible; we have the technology. In practice it will mean setting clear and concrete goals and being able to follow up on these so that it doesn’t become a question of whether or not we trust people to actually do their jobs if we can’t see them. Measuring work in hours as we generally do today really isn’t the answer. I mean just because you sit in your office for eight hours doesn’t mean you’re actually working or creating added value for the whole eight hours.
So the good news is that this really isn’t rocket science; it’s all very doable. It’s rather a question of mindset, which of course can be tricky to change.
People who opt out think long and hard about what works for them and what doesn’t, and based on this they develop terms. I also have terms, which I’ve thought about a lot lately, and I’ve found that I need to keep reminding myself what these terms are, because sometimes I forget. The reason is that organizational culture as we know it is so strongly embedded in our consciousness, that we are very much affected by what we think is expected of us. The terms we develop really aren’t that outrageous because we think we will probably have to compromise to hold down a job (which we need to do because we all have to eat, right?). So these terms and ideal solutions for work that we develop are still very much colored by the understanding we have of what is acceptable. However, being cautious and thinking in terms of old rules and regulations do not a revolution make.
So I would like you to join me in dreaming up what your ultimate solution for work really would be if you didn’t have to take into account organizational cultures, rules, regulations, and traditions. If you could work in any way you wanted (and now I want you to really think out of the box and not worry about what is and isn’t possible) how would you work? What is important to you; what is your ideal set up? Would you do things completely differently, or maybe just change a small but strategic detail? Or maybe not change anything at all?
I would love to hear from you. Please comment or send me an email at email@example.com (emails will be treated confidentially).
It’s time for a change. Let’s create that change together!
Oh, I’m so with you on this one. Research on work stress clearly shows that the thing that protects from workload is control over your work – if you can’t control anything, you get stressed and ultimately burned-out. My own research also shows that there are personality differenes in this. For example, extraverts feel that they have a heavy workload but don’t feel work stress because of their control over the situation.
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Thank you for your comment. I’m starting to wonder if there’s a connection between opting out and whether people are introverted or extroverted, i.e. do introverts opt out more? I’m glad to hear that we have common research interests and I very much look forward to some interesting and fruitful discussions!