The current crisis brought us the opportunity to reimagine how work fits into a good life. Let’s not waste it!
Big shocks and crises are great opportunities to change and improve things. As Churchill once allegedly quipped, “never let a good crisis go to waste”. The covid pandemic that is still raging in most of the world has certainly been a shocking event and one of the biggest crises we’ll see in our lifetimes. We shouldn’t let it go to waste.
We now have the opportunity to organize better many aspects of our society, including the world of work we so much like to talk about in this blog. We have the opportunity of a generation to reimagine the world of work to fit it into a good life for everyone.
Work shouldn’t necessarily be a terrible thing. We spend most of our waking hours at work, so why not make it interesting, fun, and rewarding?
We are reshaping the world of work, so we might as well do it well
In her article called The Big Return: ready to go back to the workplace?, Sylvia Metayer from Sodexo talks about the disconnect between the employers’ and employees’ views about returning to the office. The former see the office as a vibrant hub of innovation and creativity, but the latter have a more reserved view. Employers must listen more to employees when designing their return to the office.
The workplace has probably changed forever. To what concretely is not clear yet, but we are seeing some signs of it. This is a perfect opportunity to build a better model of work and to develop a world of work that improves the lives of employees as it improves at the same time their productivity and results. Is this possible? Of course it is.
We all know that in the “old normal,” there were too many things that weren’t working well: exploitative practices, bullshit jobs, no clear purpose, no work-life balance, terrible leadership, too many meetings, no concern for employees’ well-being, mental health issues, harassment in the workplace, and a long etcetera. We won’t solve all these problems in one go, but today’s redesigning of the future workplace gives us the perfect opportunity to work on some of them.
What is a good life?
Before talking about work practices conducive to a good life, we should first consider what a good life is. What is it? This is a question philosophers and other thinkers have pondered from the dawn of time. The answer remains elusive. Like many other things in life, it depends on who you ask.
Human diversity is astounding. We all like and enjoy different things. Thus there are as many recipes to a good life as there are people. Each of us is unique and will be motivated by and happy with different things. That’s why since antiquity, we have had many different philosophies, religions, and schools of thought, each purporting to solve the big question: what is and how to live a good life?
As I wrote in The modern Stoic, each person should be able to build their own personal philosophy by combining different elements of other philosophies. I have taken many aspects from the Stoic philosophy, but also others.
I also like Maslow’s Theory of Motivation, also known as the Hierarchy of Needs, because of its simplicity and because it rings true to me. We all have different needs that need to be satisfied, and these can go from basic needs such as safety, sex, hunger, or loving and feeling loved to having self-esteem and searching for self-actualisation.
Companies facing the new normal will have to be flexible enough to answer to the needs of different people, all of them unique and special in their own way, but they can do worse than following some of the teachings of Maslow and the ancient Stoics.
Companies have to be places where employees feel safe and appreciated, have a clear purpose aligned with their values, and have the space and autonomy for the ultimate search of self-actualisation and mastery.
How do you do all this?
A good organisation for a good life
There are different ways of forming a good organisation. There isn’t a single recipe for success after all. However, there are some common themes to consider.
I touched upon some of them when I wrote about the Organisation of the Future. Amongst other things, a good company should have a purpose, be agile, flexible, decentralised, and foster a learning culture.
As we saw when discussing bullshit jobs, many of the jobs out there are pointless. The good companies of the future will evaluate well the tasks at hand and will eliminate all bullshit jobs, which will bring solace to both the companies’ bottom line and the employees’ mental well-being. Bullshit jobs are wasteful and inefficient, but also mentally draining and alienating for the jobholders.
If the pandemic has had one positive consequence, it must be that it has brought the concern for mental well-being and mental health to the forefront. Mental health issues were always there, but they were taboo, and not many people spoke about them in a corporate setting. With the loss, solitude, and anxiety that the covid pandemic has created, mental issues have multiplied. Many HR departments and even executive boards have started openly discussing the topic and working on programs to support their employees.
This is a positive trend, but there is still much work to do. We now have an excellent opportunity to work more and better on this. There is more talk than ever about work-life balance, flexibility, and well-being.
See also: A Manifesto Against Hustle Culture
Most companies are experimenting with combinations of hybrid and flexible working patterns. More people than ever now work from home quite regularly (which brings its own risks of overworking, not setting the right boundaries, and burnout).
Employees are leaving en masse the companies that aren’t flexible enough or aren’t offering a compelling value proposition, in the Great Resignation. Organisations will have to adapt and offer their employees the possibility to conduct a good life, or they risk falling into irrelevance as all their best talent leaves.
Lastly, we cannot talk about great companies without talking about great leaders. The world is changing, organisations are changing, and leaders will have to change too. The future leader will have to be more empathetic and more emotionally intelligent, more open to differences, and able to integrate successfully diverse teams, and will have to know how to use AI and technology to improve the results of their team. Above all the rest, the leader of the future will have to create a compelling, inspiring, and purposeful vision that goes beyond financial results to be able to attract the best talent out of there and bring the best out of it.
Reimagining the world of work
The pandemic has created a lot of pain and suffering, but from the worst times usually come the best growth opportunities. Most changes and innovations come from crises. Covid has shaken the world to its core, and that includes the corporate world. The marketplace will never be the same again, and the old ways of doing things won’t work anymore. This means we need to find different ways to do them.
This is an excellent opportunity to reimagine the world of work to something better, something more effective and performant, but also more engaging, fun, and respectful towards the well-being and the quality of life of employees. Both are not only possible but desirable. One brings the other one: happy employees are effective employees. It sounds basic, but many companies and managers haven’t yet learned this simple lesson. It’s time they did; it’s time to change.
It’s time for a more Humane Future of Work.