Magazine article The Futurist

The New Meaning of Work: Trading Security for Independence, Some Workers Are Redefining "Work". (Economics)

Magazine article The Futurist

The New Meaning of Work: Trading Security for Independence, Some Workers Are Redefining "Work". (Economics)

Article excerpt

In the future, workers who drop out (or are pushed out) of lumbering, bureaucratic "elephant" organizations to become free, agile "fleas" will see periods of highly intense paid work interspersed with periods of unpaid activities that are more meaningful. So says economist Charles Handy in his autobiography, The Elephant and the Flea, a record of his life in "fleadom," where he redefined work in terms of how he spent his time and not how he got paid.

"Work, I believed, was a fundamental part of life," he writes. "The mistake, my mistake, was to think that there was only one form of work, namely paid work--the job. That ignores and demeans all the other sorts of work and the people who do it. Such a narrow definition of work puts the economic needs of society ahead of all the other purposes of our existence."

He began to create a new work portfolio consisting of all of the chunks of work that are meaningful and necessary. Besides paid work, there is:

* Home work: all the labor required to maintain a home and family.

* Gift work: time volunteered for churches, clubs, charities, and the like, whether it be serving Meals on Wheels or serving on organizational boards.

* Study work: time spent keeping abreast of developments in one's field and upgrading skills.

The key is to divide one's work life into a more sensible portfolio of chunks, with enough time devoted to doing paid work to pay for the other chunks, including leisure time. People who organize their lives this way may find they are defining themselves less by the work they do for money than by the work they do for love. Handy cites one woman who defines herself as a writer of TV plays, though she earns money by packing eggs: "The way she earned her money was not, in her mind, her real work."

Handy continues: "In order to entice the next generation of talent, organizations will find themselves allowing their key people to build their own mixed portfolios, which may include guaranteed time for home work at particular points in the family life cycle, periods of study work of one sort or another, opportunities for gift work in the local community, and even a mix of different bits of paid work within the organization. …

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