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The True Meaning of Work: A View from Impact Hub Birmingham

19th May 2015

The true meaning of work, for many, is no longer about employment and career progression – aspirations have moved on from six figure salaries and rising to the top. More and more people are vocal about their desire to work for purpose driven organisations and in places where they can have a positive impact on the world around them, rather than following a traditional career trajectory with a comfortable landing. Economic independence means being able to make choices like this.

The future of work is certainly values based, but these values are not the numbers shown on salary slips and in job adverts. They are instead the values employees choose to set for themselves. The values people seek from their employment are more difficult to quantify and measure, but that does not make them less significant in the labour choices people make. It is the pursuit of these values which drives people to seek economic independence and purpose driven work. In doing so people are freeing themselves from disillusionment, and centralised objectives, and enabling themselves to work on projects, activities or interests which are more aligned with their own personal values. The current corporate model of opaque vision and mission setting by a board of directors and shareholders, largely created for PR purposes, does not present the opportunity for employees to actively input into these values.

The aspiration to work in a values driven way leads many to try the entrepreneurial journey, however in the wake of austerity it is, for many, a choice made partly out of necessity. The recent reduction in unemployment in the UK has been driven, in part, by a growth in self-employment and more flexible working conditions such as zero hour contracts. Zero hour contracts are widely regarded as negative but, for values driven workers, they can present greater economic benefit so long as restrictive conditions are not put in place such as being allowed to be on multiple contracts. These contracts can give those who are entrepreneurial the touch stone to a more consistent income whilst they pursue more personal value based work.

As this becomes more commonplace independent workers will begin to form looser networks based upon shared values and opportunities. If the current model is described as a trade off between worker and profit or an exchange of time, values and ideas for wage. The future model can be described as a trade off between commitment to a cause and change, or an exchange of time for impact and change. This will help create new forms of employment which by their nature will be more erratic, but more resilient to booms and busts, less of a rush to hire in the good times and fire in the bad times.

The emergence of a larger market of independent works also leads to questions of how should we continue to assess unemployment? Would underemployment and potential productivity of individuals be a greater measure of spare capacity in the labour market? Doing more for less is a term used by central government and public sector managers alike to driving employees to work harder and longer without any increase in benefits or conditions, the idea of doing more with less is where the economy can make greater gains. Putting efficiency and productivity of resources as the yardstick by which an economy is measured would be more valuable than simple, and oft manipulated growth metrics and percentage figures.

Workers who choose values based work also use these values to push their productivity. To ensure they have the biggest impact they can they need a network on which to depend, test and learn from. The role of platforms, be they digital or physical, are to enable value based workers to achieve economic independence and social impact. These platforms and networks will help to connect knowledge, opportunities, threats, challenges and ideas between disparate workers.

New technologies will allow these platforms to develop as well as democratise the means of production and decentralise the way in which economic revenue income is created, distributed and spent. What will be needed next is a shift in the way we organise ourselves, away from traditional control structures and toward decentralised networks which value the input of every component. This combination of new organising structures empowered by technological advances will in turn unleash a democratic form of economic resurgence. One which benefits the 99% and not just the 1% driving a narrative of fear and control.

To allow more people to achieve the true meaning of work we need to free the many from powerful few and managers of fear, to empower the hopeful and the dreamers, the open democratic makers.

1 comment on “The True Meaning of Work: A View from Impact Hub Birmingham”

  1. Des Gruntled says:

    Great. Let’s all get on 0 hour contracts!

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