Rethink, Redefine the Idea of Work


by Christelle Kamanan, contributing journalist, August 2022

The job market, as it is, is not wanted anymore. With all the progress in technology and other areas, there is no point in having most people spend that much time working. It’s urgent to rethink and redefine the concept of having a job and its role in society. Other paradigms are flourishing everywhere. Early retirement strategies, quitting high-paid jobs to pursue more fulfilling activities, or simply developing alternative systems. People are not satisfied with the concept of working as it is, the place it takes in their life, and they are no longer waiting for a consensus to change it. 

Initially, working used to be centred on doing necessary activities in exchange for something. The purpose was to get what one needs to live. Since the Industrial Revolution, the paradigm has changed. Productivity stands in the centre. For that, workers have to give more of their time. It is usually their primary activity; in most cases, salaries don’t match this valuable investment. Many workers earn just enough to pay for their basic needs. These jobs don’t deliver the promised happiness, self-accomplishment or life perspectives. In Western countries, there are millions of job-related burnouts yearly – 2,55 million in France in 2021. Even the praised alternatives labelled Future-of-Work – remote work, flexible schedules, or freelancing – have shown their limits. These options suit those working in tertiary activities and some positions. The others are left aside. Improving their work-life balance sounds like a utopia. It motivates many people to bet on their future. They accumulate jobs and paid activities to earn enough and reach a comfortable early retirement as soon as possible. Although, it is a paradoxical approach. According to them, having a job only serves their strategy, combined with investing activities. This path seduces those with low revenues or without higher education. They consider it their only way out to access a better life, which the job system wouldn’t grant them. 

The COVID-19 restrictions have put this disenchantment under the spotlight. Many people have chosen to quit their job for another activity that pleases them more, even when they have to earn less. What used to be a luxury that only those in leading and managing positions could afford is now a life choice for many. In the USA, about 41 million workers have voluntarily quit their job in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labours Statistics. Even though it is a new record, it has confirmed the yearly growing number of resignations observed since 2009. It is not new. The sanitary restrictions have been the cherry on top of the cake. They highlighted the despair of workers and so the dysfunction of the whole system. 

This period has also been a moment for many to question the race to productivity. Business or engineering schools testify that it is now common for their students to change their paths. They refuse to be part of such a system or to contribute to damaging the planet. It is not sustainable in a finite world; furthermore, productivity should not be the only metronome influencing how much one has to live or spend their time.

Thus, an increasing amount of people find their way into activism or initiatives developing other societal structures. Some create service-based exchange communities between crafts persons, farmers and those who don’t comply with the job market. They agree with a new societal paradigm: money isn’t involved in their exchange, and everyone offers what they can. Crafts persons still deal with their regular clients and provide others with their basic needs. The latter can focus on social and environmental tasks and projects. Also, crafts persons participate. Each member contributes to creating a system that would benefit the collective. Working plays another role.

This concept underlines issues beyond working and affecting people in their personal life. To name some: isolation, inclusivity, finding a way to live together despite various abilities and differences or access to the bare minimum to live. It also addresses the fundament of contemporary societies, what unites us to live together. 

Since the majority still depends on the job market centred around productivity, it prevents them from managing their time how they would like. It affects people’s daily schedules, so their life. The time spent at work also represents missed opportunities to explore life without mentioning how it affects health. 

Rethinking and redesigning another paradigm for working must include several metrics as metronomes, such as well-being, social interactions, and self-accomplishment. It would bring a very different way to organise societies. Workers wouldn’t have to wait for holidays or retirement to feel alive.