All the years I’ve been researching, writing and talking about opting out and in, sustainable solutions for work and work place wellbeing, I’ve never come across anyone in the organizational world who doesn’t think all this is of the essence. I’ve been at it for a while now, and the whole time my work has been received as timely and important and with great interest.
Still, even though there is a lot of consensus regarding this, people continue struggling with the same issues at work and more and more of them dream of opting out.
Okay, before you say anything, I do know that not everything is the same. The pandemic showed us that we can change when we have to and there are a lot of organizations that now provide their employees with more flexibility regarding where, when and how they work. Also, some organizations have started prioritizing mental health more and now have routines and policies in place to support that.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of organizations that don’t. Some may talk the talk but not walk it, and some – all too many – don’t even talk it.
Why is this? Why is it so hard to change?
Well, one of the main problems is that the way we understand work; and what we know to be a ‘good’ way of working or organizing our work has become something of a truth. When things have been in a certain way for as long as we can remember, we tend to think that is the natural way for them to be and it becomes hard to even imagine doing things differently. It is simply the way things are done.
But let me let you in on a secret. The way we understand work isn’t a truth. It isn’t a law of nature, it has been invented and implemented by us and not even that long ago. It’s actually quite a recent invention.
The current career ideal was developed as a result of industrialization and the prosperity many nations experienced after World War II. Employees were expected to be loyal to one employer and career advancement involved an upward movement in the organization in a timely fashion, brought about by promotions. As mainly men started working in the industries, some argue that the career wasn’t created for one, but one and a half people: the man with the career and the wife who took care of everything he didn’t have time for because he was so tied up at work.
Although a lot has changed in society since then, this is ironically still the career ideal today: the timely upward movement and the expectation of complete dedication and devotion to work. Anything else it considered suspect, at least if you want to advance to the upper echelons of corporate hierarchies.
But guess what, we don’t have to organize work the way we do! There is nothing natural or predetermined about it. We can reinvent why we work, how we work and how much we work.
The problem is just that in order to change we have to want to change. And not only that, we also have to realize that we need to change. We have to have that lightbulb moment. Until we do, and if it’s going well enough, it’ll just feel easier to continue the way we have.
So how do we do that? How do we get people and organizations to see the light? Do we have to wait until things get so bad that there will be no choice but to change?