Monday, July 28, 2008

What is the meaning of work?

Prompted by my friend Mark Foscoe in a recent comment the question is .... What is the meaning of work in 2008?

‘Work’ and ‘career path’ bear little resemblance with when I started at age 16 as a junior clerk in the National Health Service in 1969.

In those days it was a highly structured and predictable career path. One set out on that path and moved ‘up the ladder’ until eventually reaching the level of competence that one’s skills and experience merited. It was all very predictable.

Nowadays, it seems to me, nothing is predictable anymore and I think we have much more personal control of our destiny and our career direction.

I think it is a terrific time to be starting out on a career because individuals are far more likely to do the things they ‘want’ to do rather than follow a path that is mapped out for them based on history.

Each to their own of course and I’m pretty sure some may argue the lack of structure is a negative thing ….

I would be fascinated to get your take on this one and thanks again Mark for sowing the seed.


Anonymous said...

Here's a starter for 10. "Work" is a series of projects that you undertake between leaving your adolescent education and dying. If you want to turn up and work 9 - 5 in the same job for the same employer aged 18 - 65 that's your call but there aren't many opportunities to do that in this day and age.

So, these projects will attract varying levels of remuneration, require varying levels of commitment and provide varying levels of stimulation and learning. They may be as a self-employed person or a salaried employee. They may require re-locating. Some of them may be forced on you, some may come about on a "needs must" basis but other may be chosen.

The key questions are: to what extent will you take responsibility for managing, shaping and influencing the choice of projects? And at what stage(s) will you choose to ramp up or down their number? It's your life...

Trevor Gay said...

I like that Mark. Sounds very much like we all have choices. We can sit in the same place and accept that is ‘our lot’ or we can try and make things happen. Of course some people are quite content to stay in the same job for their whole working life – and that is a choice I respect. I think it is probably less likely nowadays that people will hang around in one place for long periods but then again I was chatting to a man of 66 last week who has just semi retired after 40 years as a baker in the same place. I think you are saying different stroke for different folks and I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I too like Mark's concept of work being a project. I recall early in my professional career the change and variety of what one chose to do was frowned upon on the resume. Looked to some as if you couldn't "hold a job". I would have welcomed the freedom and flexibility and opportunity for change. Company loyalty and career path...terms I'm afraid that are bound for extinction. Could be a good thing!

Herman said...

There’s an old African saying that “To till the land is to love oneself”. When I was a kid I heard this saying a lot. I come from a community in Western Kenya that tilled the land using very rudimentary tools. It wasn’t easy but it was rewarding. I remember being in the village and tilling the land for upto six or seven hours a day. This taught me a few things about work:

1. Work should be driven by purpose

Work is supposed to be meaningful. The key to this is for the work to be driven by a vision that is guided by purpose. This means that you have to know what your purpose is first. Work that is done outside of purpose is activity without productivity. This leads to sweat and waste. You want your work to be sweet. This begins by having a solid vision that is founded in your purpose. In an organization, leadership has to clarify to employees what the purpose is. Once they clearly understand what the main objective is, then they will have joy as they work.

2. Work should add value

The beauty of giving time to work is that you have an opportunity to add value. Value is the prime motivator for the expenditure of energy. People enjoy putting in the hours when they know that they are adding value. True reward does not come for the time put in at work but for the value added during that time. Adding value means being able to see a measurable change. When I tilled the land back home in Kenya, I would always look at what I had done with immense satisfaction and joy. Nothing brings more fulfillment than work that adds value.

3. Work should be fun and exciting

When I was in High School I used to enjoy playing soccer and rugby. It was always fun to score in any of these games. It was even more exciting just to be part of a winning team. Most people enjoy sports because of these two reasons: scoring and winning. Work should be fun and exciting too. The key to this is to create an environment when scoring and winning is possible at work. People need to be able to celebrate these moments too. That’s what brings spirit to work. It’s unfortunate that too many people think of work as burdensome and boring when it can be exciting.

Work is an exciting and thrilling adventure in the exploitation of one's capabilities!

Trevor Gay said...

You are right Dave – how times change. Tom Peters says don’t appoint someone who has no gap in the résumé – they won’t do anything ‘interesting’ because they always ‘draw inside the lines.’ A slight exaggeration from Tom but I get his point. In the old days it was definitely seen as a problem if you had a gap. There are many things I love about self employment and independence and perhaps the greatest thing is the terrific variety I now have. I realise that does not suit everyone and in my case it comes after 35 years in one career – albeit in different locations - so I guess I was overdue a change!

Herman – thanks for visiting Simplicity Blog- great to ‘meet’ you – hope you will visit again. I love the saying ‘To till the land …..’ and how wonderful it is that we learn so many things about life and much deeper stuff through just doing hard repetitive sometime even boring work. I remember my late beloved Dad used to tell me how good it was for me to weed the land for many hours as a kid. I am sure he was right even if it didn’t feel like it at the time!

Purpose, Adding Value, Fun and Exciting – they are four terrific rules for work Harman – thanks for your wisdom. I often say to groups of people I work with that it really is not compulsory to be miserable at work so it was great to see fun and exciting in your list. Sir Richard Branson in his book Screw it Lets Do it emphasis how important it is to him that folks who work in his Virgin Empire have fun. A pretty successful role model it seems to me.

David Wike said...

I think that Herman has summed up pretty well what constitutes fulfilling work: there should be a purpose, it should add value and it should be enjoyable. Most work could be like that if only managers would take the time to involve people in discussing and contributing to what is done and how it’s done. Then they will understand why they are doing it and the importance of their role in the overall picture.

In the heat at the weekend I decided to do a bit of ‘tilling’, or in my case, slightly extend my patio. There was a clear purpose. When eating alfresco no longer would there be the risk of toppling over backwards onto the lawn if one moved one’s chair injudiciously.

Having completed the task I felt that I had added value to our outside dining arrangements. However, it wasn’t much fun and the only excitement was the risk of crushing fingers beneath heavy paving slabs! But the lack of fun and the risk was outweighed by the sense of having achieved something positive, simple though that achievement may have been.

And it was a team effort. My wife suggested it and I did the work. Actually that sounds like the normal management/worker scenario!

Trevor Gay said...

Great story David - thanks for sharing ..... and yes ... it sounds to me just like a normal management/worker scenario!

Thanks for pointing out my spelling mistake with Herman's name .... sincere apologies Herman!