The Good Work Zeitgeist: Future Intelligence Problems, Paradoxes and Possibilities

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Jericho Chambers launched the Future of Work is Human project with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development in the autumn of 2015, under the leadership of CIPD CEO, Peter Cheese. The FoWiH community is now 1500+ strong, drawn from leaders in business and government; policy-makers and academics; campaigners, NGOs and Civil Society groups; media and commentators.

 In this latest Opinion piece, appropriately published on May 1st, Jericho partner Neal Lawson – also Chair of Good Society Pressure Group Compass – explores the Good Wok zeitgeist and the challenges for contemporary thinking, policies and behaviours.

Problems and paradoxes at work

The future of work has never been more uncertain. We are at a genuine pivot moment, or – as Gramsci would have it – the interregnum, between the old world of work that will not yet die and new that cannot yet be born. And, to carry the Italian theorist’s dictum through, all around us “morbid symptoms” appear.

It is within this context of the shift from the solid modernity of work in the 20th century to the fluid or liquid world of work in the 21st century that companies, employers, unions, governments and others must make sense of.

A Good Work and a Good Society agenda

But this is a moment not just to rethink the world of work, but the future of work and Good Work within the context of a good society and a good life. For both the sanity and well-being of humankind and the sustainability of the planet – and the obvious links between the two – work and the economy cannot be dealt with as separate and distinct spheres from society and the planet. So what sort of lives do we want to live; how much do we need to earn and spend; what else do we want to do to meet out full potential; and how do we do that within one planet boundaries?

It is only within the context of this debate and the decisions that flow from it can the notion of Good Work be genuinely addressed. In this way, a debate about Good Work is more meaningful because it is aligned with and to the broader progressive agenda and can act as a way of pre-figuring the good society and good life – by leading the way on the six agenda issues listed below and the web of issues that lie behind them.

But this won’t be easy. Complexity and paradoxes abound.  There is not one simple, linear shift but many.   Driven by technology, as every jobs revolution is, we face a world of either individual and collective agency or corporate and state surveillance.  While some are working harder and longer than ever, willingly or not, others are pushing for less work.

But the dominant themes and principles of a Good Work agenda are becoming clearer:

Purpose – is what I’m doing at work meaningful to me and aligned to the notion of a good society? Can I be proud of my work and my enterprise – is it about more than profit and pay – a higher goal? Do I feel I belong and can thrive in this work culture?
Autonomy – does anyone listen to me, does anyone respond or react to what I say, do I have a bigger collective voice, is the place I work and the people I work with accountable to me and other stakeholders? Can I change some of the big things about what happens at my work and how? Am I respected and recognized? Do I help shape my own and my organisations future?
Intelligence – what is the unique human element to adding value at work, i.e. what can’t machines or AI do that we can? How much must emotional intelligence feature within and without the enterprise? What then is a Smart work agenda?
Advancement – can I progress? Yes, to more money but to more skills, knowledge, wisdom and networks? Can I grow and reach my full potential? Do I have the same opportunity to progress and develop as anyone else?
Reward – can I earn enough to live the life I want? Is what I’m paid fair for the job I do and the value I create? Is the way my performance is evaluated fair and transparent?
Time – how much time do I want to spend working? Can this be flexible given the other things that matter in my live at different stages such as family, studying, caring, volunteering, travelling etc? At its best Good Work is agnostic about time and place. 

If we as a society can get these six themes right then we cover other key issues good work issues such as digitization, globalization, inclusion, productivity, precariousness, security, sustainability, migration, well-being and more.

But this isn’t just a theoretical exercise but a journey of discovery of what’s already out there and emerging.  The future is already here, but as ever just not evenly distributed, then the task is to understand and overcome the barriers to systematising and acceleration of these six Good Work themes. As the Future of Work community and the CIPD programme moves into its Good Work phase, we welcome further ideas, innovations and challenges within the wider debate – with all its problems, possibilities and paradoxes.

To get involved with the Good Work community, please contact rebecca.perrin@jerichochambers.com.



May 1 2019

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