Is work overrated

Although human beings have hardly changed in 200,000 years of evolution, our relationship to work has undergone profound changes, even the last century. Jobs have increased in complexitycareers have become less predictableand talent has become multidimensional, more difficult to judgefind and keep.

In the space of a few generations, we have transitioned of a world where most opportunities were limited by political capital (Who you know, connections, social class), to whoever first intellectual capital (What you know, technical skills, degrees), then psychological capital (that you arepersonality, values, soft skills) have more impact on success.

Clearly, these changes have created new challenges for workers, as well as for society. Regardless of their skill level, workers are under pressure to develop new skills in order to remain employable in the face of increasing global competition and the threat of AI and automation. Technological advances and innovations have not yet led to clear results. productivity gainsand many people work Following to provide similar levels of performance. The disproportionate demand for rare skills continues to exacerbate Economic inequalitywhile most wages fail keep up with inflation and the cost of living. If and when the pandemic ends, these new challenges for workers are more likely to intensify than disappear. And yet, there are visible improvements, and a lot of progress, around How? ‘Or’ What we work.

Work in progress

For the vast majority of the global workforce, things are considerably better today than they were at the beginning of the 20and century. Compared to that time, the jobs are less physically demanding, less dangerous, less boring, more intellectual, and more likely to appeal to people’s interests and motivation. While there is a lot of progress to be made in diversity and inclusion, organizations have been less diverse and inclusive in the past.

Today, there are also many more choices when it comes to careers (although, as we know, more choices makes it more difficult for people to choose, which often leads to anxiety professional uncertainty). Yet by yesterday’s standards, most of today’s career problems are #firstworldproblems. For example, 100 years ago, it would have been very rare for someone to come home from work and answer the question “How was work today?” question with: “Not great. I didn’t really feel the purpose, so maybe I should quit. Thirty years ago, it would have been rare for someone to quit their job because they didn’t was not allowed to work from home or bring their dog in the office.

All of these improvements in working conditions mean that employers are more keen than ever to provide consumer-like experiences. They want to cater to the unique psychological values ​​and preferences of workers and promise them everything: meaningful, ethical, profitable and intellectually stimulating careers with more flexibility, freedom and status. Employees are now in the driver’s seat as they help shape company policies, including talent decisions and cultural norms, as well as pressure leaders on moral issues.

Yet there is no evidence that workers are generally happier or even more satisfied with their jobs and careers. For example, commitment levels and length of employment have remained stagnant for years, and an increasing number of workers are deciding to resign, not only their bosses, but the job absolutely. In our opinion, the main factor explaining this gap between the improvement of working conditions and the satisfaction of workers is that expectations exceeded actual working conditions. Today, there is so much pressure on work and careers to satisfy people, that workers are bound to be disappointed.

Humans have always searched for meaning and purpose, but historically they have found them in many areas of life. other than work: religion, philosophy, spirituality, sports, entertainment, hobbies, relationships, etc. Jobs have been, for most of our history, just work. We yearn for it to make ends meet or set aside enough money to enjoy life (which we seem to have forgotten).

As much as we are staunch defenders of work and big believers in the progress of human capital, we fear that work – as it is historically defined – is overvalued. Don’t lose heart though. Some emerging trends are bridging the gap between what workers expect from work and what employers are beginning to deliver. Here are some ways leaders can continue to reframe our approach to work.

Create individual artboards

American companies know how to be individualistic. Companies have individual development plans for employees and create individual salary plans. In this new era, we also need individual work plans. Working days in “teams” of people or at corporate headquarters waiting for all employees at 8 a.m. simply don’t fit into today’s individual definition of flexibility.

Yet the last Search ManpowerGroup found that 100% remote work is also not the first choice. In fact, most people say their top priority when it comes to flexible working is the freedom to choose their own start and end times. We now need to consider breaking down shifts and providing flexibility for previously standard schedules. There is also an advantage for employers. Four or two hour shifts as opposed to the traditional eight hours mean more flexibility for employers when it comes to schedules.

Upgrade All

Every employee should have a skills development plan from the production line to head office. The pandemic has revealed that our skills are valuable, whether workers are essential or executives. Workers seeking to upgrade their skills also benefit employers. It doesn’t have to be the kind of higher-order development often talked about in the media. Incremental, on-demand and just-in-time can have more impact, whether it’s developing technical or soft skills.

Focus on the goal

Employees are now aware of the idea of ​​promises without progress, and they expect more. In our recent ManpowerGroup’s What Makes Workers Thrive survey, two out of three people want to work for organizations whose values ​​they share. So, lean into your culture and purpose, and let them define the strength of your position on public and private policy.

There is mutual benefit in this approach. It allows you to deepen your employer brand while respecting your values. We’re past the days of values ​​in a boardroom because employees now expect values ​​and purpose to permeate the culture, so it shows on Zoom, on the shop floor, and in the hallways of the head office.

See workers for their skills, not just job titles

Human beings are a compilation of experiences and upbringing that create unique and individual abilities. For decades, human resources created jobs. Now we should create jobs around individuals. Their previous degree or job title is less important than their unique skills. The COVID crisis has taught us that a front desk supervisor in a hotel has the skills to be a call center manager. Skills transcend industries and titles are less relevant than basic abilities. Assess skills and human potential. This will unlock new worker lanes and unlock new workers for company lanes.

Measuring performance against presenteeism

Many of us probably remember trying to be in our office at some point to beat the boss or staying until you were one of the last people to leave. Without clear productivity metrics, being seen equals performance. However, this environment has created inequalities in the workplace with those leaving for families or for aging parents or simply for a hobby or personal commitment. As the world drifted away, the idea of ​​being present equaling performance was also challenged.

There is also a growing divide between roles where management can measure the impact of parts and parts produced and roles where work is valued but does not have the same clear metrics. It’s time for employee dashboards to be established at all levels to demonstrate contributions beyond physical presence. This is a win for the employee as their true value becomes clear. The organization can then choose which areas to invest in for a return on investment.

Work has changed, workers have changed, and now is the time to take a new, more holistic view of worker contributions and employer benefits. As we evolve, there can be wins for all.


Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, PhD, is the Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup and Professor of Business Psychology at Columbia University and University College London. He is the author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? And how to fix it.

Becky Frankiewicz is the president of ManpowerGroup North America and a labor market expert. Prior to that, she led one of PepsiCo’s largest subsidiaries, Quaker Foods North America, and was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People. Find her on Twitter @beckyfrankly.


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