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Whirling Chief
Nº 77

Let’s Try to Redefine ‘Work’

Today’s post is all about asking questions. We’re not necessarily looking for answers or trying to generate solutions, but simply hoping to think aloud together. Our topic is one you’re all too familiar with: ‘Work.’

What does ‘work’ mean, literally speaking? Why do we call employment ‘work?’ What does the experience of ‘work’ mean to us, individually? And collectively as a workforce? How do we each conceptualize it?

Dr. John Budd of the Carlson School of Management has a fun, short video, summarizing his research findings on 10 meanings of work for employees. The range differs from a curse to freedom to a commodity to caring. Depending on the way we conceptualize it, our emotions and behaviors are shaped to cope with it.

It is a reality that ‘work’ traditionally means so many different things to so many different people.

And, of course, depending on that individual definition, managers are expected to adjust their approach to provide a safe, healthy, and sustainable work environment for their employees.

Then, there are questions related to how organizations think about ‘work:’

What’s their take on incorporating individual contributions? How do they organize ‘work?’ How do they promote it? How do they provide rewards?

In several of our earlier posts, we mentioned that terminology matters. Along those lines, here’s a thought: Why do we have a discipline called ‘compensation?’ What is it that we are compensating people for? It makes it sound as if we’re doing something against our will, but lucky us…someone is giving us a carrot for doing it anyways. It’s like we let our unconscious create the impression that we are not in control of the situation.

Many of these concepts we encounter in business have been historically driven by economists, during the industrial revolution and then later in academic studies. Over the years, we have learned and leveraged the best of them.

That said, our collective sense tells us we may be approaching the time when we can take back some of these terminologies.

‘Work’ no longer needs to be a cumbersome thing people do every day. It doesn’t need be a “daily grind.” We have enough knowledge to enjoy holistic and more sustainable systems in our everyday lives, not just the working part of it.

We may be able to work with other disciplines (i.e. neuroscience) and academicians to come up with healthier and more sustainable models to ‘work.’

Tell us what you think. What did ‘work’ mean to you in your younger days and how is it different today?


  • 9 January 2017

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