by Chrsitelle Kamanan, April 2022
Well-being, a fair work-life balance and a meaningful job are part of the top criteria of the working class. It accompanies the urge for drastic changes to face environmental and social challenges. Companies undertake them with Future-of-work, which should provide employees with more self-accomplishment, efficiency and agility. This model is supposed to pave the way to new forms of working. Remote work or telecommuting, flexible working hours, automation or freelancing are the main options.
However, they are a distorted interpretation of the idea of New Work conceptualised in the 80s by Frithjof Bergmann.
It is the principle of “doing a job that you really, really like“, a love-driven activity, so to say. It emancipates employees from the wage labour to give space to self-accomplishing and satisfying jobs. This concept comes in total opposition to the idea of working to earn a living. For instance, it inspired the proposal of a four-day workweek or a universal basic income.
The Future-of-Work does not advocate for that with its panel of tools. They seem to offer more options to employees, but concerns are rising. Since the social distancing of the last two years, remote work – home office – has been a dream turned into a nightmare for many. Creating or finding an appropriate working environment became a journey. They had to deal with solitude, issues to focus on, and maintain efficient communication. In addition, this mobility is a privilege. Many essential jobs are not compatible with telecommuting. Remote work and its social impacts need further investigation.
This question is also relevant for automation, strongly developed with AI (artificial intelligence). So far, only a few perspectives exist for those whose jobs are vanished or are on the way to be. On the other hand, automation often serves as an argument to offer time for creative or higher-value activities. Indeed, the time not spent on repetitive tasks allows space for other duties, but the automated ones still need to be checked or analysed. So, automation may increase possibilities for pressure and workload. Also, it does not guarantee that one is involved in new activities bringing satisfaction or allowing self-accomplishment. This core question remains.
Flexibility is another popular tool that encourages pressure and drastically affects the work-life balance. Instead of having set working hours, employees receive an objectives-based schedule. Once again, it can help in some cases. However, the focus is on the outcomes and the deadlines. It is responsible for creating burnouts or preventing people from enjoying their free time. Flexible hours dos not mean working less or doing more pleasant tasks. It is common to see juniors or those in probation time going over the working time they should be doing to reach their goals. On top of that, not everyone masters time management.
Several studies show that it’s one of the top three difficulties in freelancing, another trend of the Future-of-Work.
Although it offers the possibility to design an enjoyable and self-accomplishing professional activity, it also comes with serious challenges. There is a lack of social security, and it’s challenging to generate consistent revenue. Freelancers must deal with stressful situations alone, and they don’t have any representations, such as unions or human resources.
These main tools labelled as Future-of-Work are still far from offering ways to implement the concept of New Work. They are not enough to attract employees and avoid high-qualified profiles retention. Indeed, workers, especially the youngest, want meaningful jobs. They are not willing to compromise their well-being or work-life balance for their professional activities. Building a career at all costs is not part of their plan.
Developing a better future for work goes hand in hand with questioning the paradigm of work and acting on sustainability, environmental protection and social inclusivity.
The concept of New Work appeals to rethink and redefine the idea of work itself, whereas the Future-of-Work, as it is now, offers new options only.