June 18, 2013
Work. We all, with some noticeable exceptions, are obliged to do some. If we are lucky we receive remuneration for our labour. This for me is at the heart of work. We are professionals. specialists, generalists, doers, thinkers, strategists or the people on the front line – but we all go to work. So, shouldn’t the people in charge – and just as importantly, the consultants they talk to about us workers – find out what makes us tick? Obviously, that is exactly the argument that many workplace consultants are making via Office Insight, via Twitter and in the property and FM media. Engaging with employees, via workshops forums or surveys such as Leesman or the more intelligently crafted employee surveys – I agree with all of it, but I think we might be missing something. We need to get back to what work is about.
Broadly, and this is a massive generalisation so stick with me, work is comprised of three elements. Organisations, some public, some private, some led by visionary figures make a product or provide a service supplied to a market. The market – almost entirely people like you and me and some major corporations and public sector bodies – purchase that product or service. The production of the product or service is undertaken by the workers. That’s a basic definition, but it works. It’s functional for this argument – maybe effective too.
We, the workers go to work to purchase goods, services, effectively we go to work in order to exist, survive and in many cases in Western society, prosper and enjoy leisure activities. In short, the vast majority of society works to live – it is a necessity because of the structure of our society. But ask yourself a question – wouldn’t you rather be doing something else?
If there was an employee effectiveness survey or employee satisfaction questionnaire that asked if you’d be happier doing something completely different how would that affect workplace strategy? At ThinkFM last week, delegates were encouraged to do something bold – pursue their dreams. Frankly that’s rubbish. If we pursued our dreams no one would be at work in the first place and the debates about effectiveness would fall flat – big time.
If we are to make workplace effective, properly, in a way that doesn’t just benefit the C-suite (horrible term by the way) and makes rich people even richer, but serves society as whole then we need to look at how we work. Assessing the impact of a desk, chair or what we do and where and the quality of the coffee or the IT helps, but doesn’t go far enough.
That’s a big ask.
Here’s the good news. There is an argument that the democratisation of the workplace – and it is happening everywhere, in ways that you cannot always see straightaway – is slowly changing how we work, how we behave and our expectations of the place itself. But big business and Government find it very uncomfortable. It doesn’t compute with their definition of society.
So, the answer to the big question lies with us – the workers. As Citizen Smith once said – power is in the hands of the masses. Democratic power in the workplace exists in terms of our performance. Yes, we might prefer to do something else, but we can at least pressure employers to give us the illusion we’re doing what we’re obliged to in a place that is emotionally stimulating.
We still won’t want to be there, mind.