Last month, I shared the Future of Work Manifesto as a starter for a series of discussions around the Future of Work. In this post, I'd like to talk about what we actually mean by work. Has the definition changed over the years? Is it time for a new definition?
The simplest definition is:
1. activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
2. mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment.
1. be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a purpose or result, especially in one's job; do work.
That's all fine and good, but the language is very mechanical. Jamie Notter and I argued in Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World that there is a big change coming in organizations, from traditional, mechanical systems of management developed in the Industrial Revolution, to a more human ecosystem. This seed change was sparked first by the social media revolution and is now, we realized, catalyzed by the Millennial generation becoming not only the largest generation in the workplace, but at the same time, entering into management positions--where they will be able to change how we work in ways that are much more connected to our digital reality.
So, here's the (admittedly messy, admittedly aspirational) definition of work we created for the Manifesto.
- Work is the expending of effort for the creation of value. If there's no effort, but it's still considered work, it should be automated; if there's no value, the work is pointless and wasteful.
- Work is the process of creating something for the purpose of human flourishing. Let's get rid of what doesn't do that. Work has meaning for every individual. Work involves identity.
- Work involves a sense of belonging. Work has meaning for the networks each individual is connected to. Work has meaning for the local community and for the global community. Work involves social responsibility.
We thought, "effort expended in order to get a result" was no longer enough to describe what work is. It's no longer just mechanical, inputs leading to outputs. There's something about work that is about (or should be about) value and even meaning. We talked about this with lots of people, some of whom thought that there are employees who just want a paycheck and don't aspire to getting meaning from their work - and I just don't believe that the potential isn't there for everyone, no matter what kind of job they do. And of course when we think about value, there's the balance between value for the individual worker versus value for the company they work for... in an ideal world, these would be aligned or complementary, and the whole Manifesto is about how that might be true.
There's been a lot of discussion all over the interwebs around automation and robots taking over jobs - that's a bigger discussion than we can have here, but I remain optimistic that automation of certain kinds of tasks allows for MORE opportunities for meaningful work, not less.
The definition includes the idea that work is undeniably linked to an individual's identity AND an individual's networks (family, online networks, local community, global community). That's not part of any traditional definition of work, but if we make it part of what work means, then we can connect the dots between the value provided by a company to the individual "users" of its workplace, to its customers, and to its wider place in the world.
What do you think of this new, human definition of work? What would you change? Is anything missing? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Exploring the Future of Work is a new Social Media Today column looking at how work is evolving, and can be changed for the better - other posts in the series can be found here.