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  • authored by Wanda Marie Pasz
  • published Sat, Mar 5, 2005

The 21st Century Workplace: R_evolution

Whenever I go to my workplace, or someone else's, or hear people talking about work, I am struck by just how completely and utterly unhappy almost everyone is almost all the time. The dissatisfaction is everywhere - it doesn't matter what industry, what sector, what occupation, what income, what benefits and perks people receive. With few exceptions, everybody who has worked anywhere, for any length of time, doing whatever, hates their job, can't stand their boss and is amazed at how their employer stays in business given the moronic ways in which it does business.

The disappointment sets in early. People enter the workforce with all kinds of expectations - not so much about money and status - but about being treated fairly, doing work that requires them to use their brain to at least some extent, being respected, being treated like a human. They believe that if they contribute to their employer's success they will, in the least, be treated like they've contributed something of value.

Within a few years (sometimes much sooner) they are disillusioned. Their work is mind-numbingly boring and, they discover, it's supposed to be that way. They are required to park their brain at the door or use it only as is necessary to carry out their boring tasks. Piles of policies, procedures and rules require them to lower their self-esteem so that others can get an elevated sense of theirs. They report to people who are no smarter than themselves yet treat them like children - or dogs. Layers of managerial staffers above or around them spend most of their time playing "who's got the biggest... appendage" while the business just flounders along.

When times are good, senior managers take the credit. When times are bad, they - the workers - get the blame.

Their dissatisfaction is their fault, they're told. If they want to feel good about their work they need to lower their expectations or maybe make themselves over so that they are more likely to succeed (read: get a shot at playing "who's got the biggest appendage").

Human resources professionals (who are really not a profession) are not there to help them. No one outside of the HR Department really knows the purpose of HR - aka Human Remains or Humans Resourceless - but it isn't to help humans. What HR really does is not widely advertised among the humans because it's not very uplifting: It helps the organization manage human things that can be used (that's the definition of "resources").

Not surprisingly, flavour-of-the-month human resources programs - aimed at motivating the humans - come and go. Always with much fanfare, large consulting tabs and zero results.

In the mainstream of society, newspaper columnists, authors of self-help books, employee assistance programs and other helping hands try to help people to cope with life in their dysfunctional workplaces. There is a lot of discussion about what's happening and how you can anaesthetize yourself while it's happening to you but there is little discussion of why it's like that and what can be done to change it.

The dissatisfaction can't be cured by doing yoga, filing lawsuits, getting another certificate or degree or fixing up your resume. Getting a "better job" job usually just means finding another work station at which the dissatisfaction will continue.

What's going on?

It's R-Evolution

Revolution is a class action, it is a class struggle. And it is also violent, because those who have power are not going to lose their vested interest easily; it is going to be a bloody, violent struggle in which thousands, sometimes millions of people will die....And the last thing to remember: revolution changes nothing. It is a wheel: One class comes into power, others become powerless. But sooner or later the powerless are going to become the majority, because the powerful don't want to share their power, they want to have it in as few hands as possible. ...When the powerful become the smaller group, the majority throws them away and another power group starts doing the same. That's why I say revolution has never changed anything or in other words, all the revolutions of history have failed. They promised much, but nothing came out of it.

I don't preach revolution. I am utterly against revolution. My word for the future and for those who are intelligent enough in the present, is rebellion.

What is the difference?

Rebellion is individual action. It has nothing to do with the crowd. Rebellion has nothing to do with politics, power, violence. Rebellion has something to do with changing your consciousness, your silence, your being. It is a spiritual metamorphosis.

Rebellion is a very silent phenomenon that will go on spreading without making any noise and without even leaving any footprints behind. It will move from heart to heart in deep silences, and the day it has reached to millions of people without any bloodshed, just the understanding of those millions of people will change our old animalistic ways. Enlightened Rebellion, Osho, from Rebels and Devils, The Psychology of Liberation, C. S. Hyatt, Ed.

A rebellion is happening. The collective consciousness of many, many people is changing and their beliefs about their purpose here on earth are shifting in a big way. As a result of this rebellion of the mind, an evolution is taking place. It's not a "revolution" - it's something more transformative and built to last. You can't undo evolution. So think of what's happening as r_evolution - as in "our evolution".

The root of the dissatisfaction with work is not that people are too demanding or that employers haven't landed on the most effective "human resources management" program. The root of the problem is that we are evolving. And our evolution is not our problem. It's good to evolve. It's a problem for all those employers of humans out there. Since you can't really stop evolution, it's time that they got down to dealing with reality.

This rebellion of the mind isn't just something that's occurring in relation to work. The world is changing in very fundamental ways. Take a look at events that have occurred in the social and political spheres over the past two decades. Take a look at the past five years even and think of examples where groups of people asserted their interests - human interests - over the interests of institutions and powerful elites. Something prompted them to do that and it had to do with changing what they believe, who they trust, what they think is best for them, what kind of world they want to live in.

Activism is on the rise. People are engaging their power and sending a message to institutional managers of every stripe: We don't like what you're doing. Change or get out of the way. We don't trust you. We don't want you. And We Are Everywhere.

The evidence is all around us. Events that would not have seemed possible only a few years ago are happening. Issues and ideas that were shunned or ignored are finding their way into public discourse.

The collective actions of all these millions of people - everywhere - is facilitating a big shift. A paradigm (beliefs and values that affect the way we perceive reality and respond to that perception) shift is happening. How we perceive our relationship with institutions that affect our lives is changing. We're not content to defer to the wisdom of their leaders any more. We're no longer convinced that their interests are consistent with ours and we're no longer content to assume that they know what's best for us.

Three hundred years after swallowing the idea that an economic market regulated only by a mysterious hidden hand (yes that's really what John Adams, granddaddy of free market economic theory, said) was the best economic order for us all, people in large numbers are saying, "Take your hopelessly flawed theory and shove it".

It's inconceivable that a shift of this magnitude will not affect our perceptions about work and our relationships at the workplace. We spend most of our waking hours either at work, thinking about work or looking for work - so it's a given that if we're saying "we're not bugs" to every other powerful institution, we're not going to somehow exempt the employers from that.

Why We Hate Where We Work

Our conception of work (what it is, what purpose it should serve, how it should make us feel) and the workplace are changing but the workplace environment is not - at least not in fundamental ways. A paradigm shift is occurring with respect to work and the workplace too. There's a difference - a rub point - between what we're doing and what we want to do, how we're doing things and how we want to do things.

Our work environment is structured. Our work is fragmented. We want something more holistic, fluid, and meaningful. At work we're managed, administered and measured but we want to be engaged. The rub point is becoming more pronounced.

Richard Donkin says it this way in his book, Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Evolution of Work:

Great work is about kindling the inner human spirit that makes us the people that we are. Great work can generate the glow that illuminates the achievements of our ancestors and sparks the achievements of our heirs... Some work has dimmed this glow to nothing more than a flicker in the human soul. If work cannot create the fire that fortifies every human spirit, then that work has lost its meaning and should be discarded...

And why shouldn't it be like that?

On a certain level, we've come a long way since the Industrial Revolution. Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds. We've developed faster, more efficient ways of producing goods and providing services. More sophisticated methods of managing people have been implemented. The impact of humans on organizational success has been recognized to a greater or lesser degree by most employers. At minimum, they need people to do things that can't be done by machines. Most need people to do things well in order to succeed in business.

Millions of dollars are spent annually in efforts to recruit, motivate and reward people so that they will do things well. Millions more are spent to try to get them to do boring, mind-numbing things under humiliating conditions and like it.

And that's the root of the problem. We just don't like it and no amount of human resources management is going to make us like it. It's like we've gotten too smart for all that command and control crap. Even business advisors are saying it's history.

When it comes to the tools, methods and processes we use to get work done, we're light years ahead of our predecessors but when it comes to the values, the principles that form the basis of our relationships to and at work, we're stuck in the past - the deep, dark past.

Scientific management, bureaucratic structures, master-servant relationships are from a long time ago. Are they appropriate for the 21st century workplace? Are they right for a democratic society? These are important questions. It's time we started talking about them.

The Big and Rapid Change

The paradigm shift that is already happening will alter our beliefs in what's important, what's right, what's possible, how we should live, work and relate. Our beliefs about relationships, especially those between the individual and the institution (business, government, labour), are changing. This trend will continue and become more rapid.

Think about the impact of communications technology on what people think and do. Think about the values of the generation now entering the workplace. Consider the disillusionment of workers who entered the workplace expecting to be treated like humans. Consider the looming labour shortage. Work-life isn't going to be the same.

This big-and-rapid change has been discussed at some length - everywhere except in the workplace. No one knows what exactly what things will look like when the new paradigm replaces the old but there seems to be a general consensus that change will be fundamental and will impact the economic, political, social spheres that govern our lives.

Humanistic and transcendental values aren't a luxury imposed on economic values. They're the measure of the appropriateness of economic values... We can choose either to understand and move with the tides of history, whatever they may be - or try to resist them. Upon that choice may rest in great measure the state of business in 1990 and beyond. Willis Harman

A half century ago, Harman would have been labeled a crazy something-ist. Ideas like this are being expressed with increasing frequency and openness by many people in many different occupations and situations.

A lot of things are also being said in relation to the future of work and the workplace,. According to many of the futurist thinkers:

(Note: These are different ideas that are out there and are worth knowing about because they run contrary to the conventional perspectives that you get from your employer, union or government labour agency. They also represent themes that are surprisingly common in discourse on the subject of the future of work).

  • The nature of work will shift from regimented, task oriented, "scientifically managed", jobs to more meaningful, holistic occupations. People will create outcomes instead of performing tasks.
  • Our perceptions of work will change from something that earns us a living to something that adds value to our lives and those of others. Some suggest that we will work for each other instead of being employed by others.
  • Work will be less secure (in that most of us won't work for one employer all our lives) but our lives will be more secure (because we will no longer depend on selling our labour in order to survive).
  • Work may involve a combination of paid employment, community service, voluntarism, exchange of services for goods.
  • The concept of "life long learning" will become a norm in relation to work. Learning opportunities (as opposed to job-specific training) will be a standard "benefit" provided in the workplace.
  • For-profit enterprises (if they exist at all - depends on whose work you read) will have "multiple bottom lines" that include responsibility to the communities, the people that they engage and the environment.
  • A "Third Sector" comprised of community-based, not-for-profit or cooperative enterprises will emerge. Some believe that this sector will become the dominant economic institution.
  • Reliance on knowledge workers will continue to grow. The term "knowledge worker" will be understood to encompass people working in a wide range of occupations and providing a wide range of services (anything that requires a specialized knowledge of something).
  • The workplace will be democratized (again, perspectives vary from "greater participation in decision-making" on the one hand to full decision-making "by the people for the people").
  • Leadership roles in the workplace will shift from managing, directing and supervising to coordinating, facilitating, teaching and problem solving.
  • The role of organized labour will change dramatically. The unions (or workplace representative organizations) of the future will likely be small, local networked organizations.
  • The legal framework that governs labour-management relations will become irrelevant and collapse as people exercise their power directly and more effectively in order to advance their interests.
  • Relationships (between and among people, organizations, work, communities) will be altered. The way we think about work and what's important at work will change.
  • People will coalesce around shared interests rather than class interests.

What might work be like in the new era? The following is probably the best representation of the major differences between the old and a possible new paradigm as it of the workplace that I've seen. It presents the old paradigm where work is defined by economics of business to a new paradigm based on the shared values of people.

Assumptions of the Old Paradigm of Economics Assumptions of the New Paradigm of Values
Promotes consumption at all costs, via planned obsolescence, advertising, pressure, creation of artificial "needs". Appropriate consumption. Conserving, keeping, recycling, quality, craftsmanship, innovation, invention to serve authentic needs.
People to fit jobs. Rigidity. Conformity. Jobs to fit people. Flexibility, creativity. Form and flow.
Imposed goals, top-down decision-making, hierarchy, bureaucracy. Autonomy encouraged. Worker participation, democratization. Shared goals, consensus.
Fragmentation, compartmentalization in work and roles. Emphasis on specialized tasks. Sharply defined job descriptions. Cross-fertilization by specialists seeing wider relevance of their field or expertise. Choice and change in job roles encouraged.
Identification with job, organization, profession. Identity transcends job description.
Clockwork model of economy, based on Newtonian physics. Recognition of uncertainty in economics.
Aggression, competition, "business is business". Cooperation. Human values transcend "winning".
Work and play separate. Work as means to an end. Blurring of work and play. Work rewarding in itself.
Struggle for stability, station, and security. Sense of change, becoming. Willingness to risk, entrepreneurial attitude.
Quantification, quotes, status symbols, level of income, profits, raises, GNP, tangible assets. Qualitative as well as quantitative. Sense of achievement, mutual effort for mutual enrichment. Values, intangible assets as well as tangible.
Manipulation and dominance of nature. Cooperation with nature; organic view of work and wealth.
Strictly economic motives, material values. Progress judged by product content. Spiritual values transcend material gain; material sufficiency. Process as important as product, context of work as important as content - not just what you do but how you do it.
Polarized, labour versus management, consumer versus manufacturer. Transcends polarities. Shared goals, values.
Short-sighted, exploitation of limited resources. Ecologically sensitive to ultimate costs. Stewardship.
Rational, trusting only data. Rational and intuitive. Data, logic augmented by hunches, feelings, insights, nonlinear patterns.
Emphasis on short-term solutions. Recognition that long-range efficiency must take into account harmonious work environment, employee health, customer relations.
Centralized operations. Decentralized operations whenever possible. Human scale.
Source: The Aquarian Conspiracy, Margaret Ferguson, 1987

Organizations, public and private, will need to adapt in this evolving environment if they want to remain relevant, survive and especially if they want to thrive in the evolving era.

The impact of the forces driving this change is already evident. The rub-points between the old and new paradigms are manifesting in conflict and dissatisfaction in the workplace that cannot be adequately ameliorated by conventional means. Human resources management "practices" may contain the issues but will not resolve them.

Conceive it and it will happen

Of all of the futurist thinkers on the subject of work, there are not many who are actually from the dysfunctional workplaces of the world. That's not good. We can be, should be at the vanguard of thought and discussion about the future of what we do, how we do it and what we do it for. That's a first and necessary step to engaging the future.

We should not allow the present to get in the way of the future. It's hard to conceive of something radically different even as we go about our business from day to day. It's tempting to just not think about it. We have before us, however, the greatest of opportunities. We - collectively and individually - can influence the shape of the future of work.

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