Back in 1791, the majority of society, even women and children worked in factories every day, make their hours to get paid a small share of the total profit of the company (Digischool, n.d.). The Modern Times were here and mankind was needed to keep the machines running. The more hours you worked, logically, the more you get paid. The working structure was wearing people down, the ones who worked the hardest got the smallest share. This needed to change. The formation of labour unions created a counter voice for the almighty big companies. Result: the 40-hour workweek. Giving people 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of leisure.
2021. We are still picking the fruits of our labour unions. The 40-hour workweek is still in place and for myself, born in 1997, working 8 hours per day is considered normal. Nonetheless, something big changed between 1791 and now. We went form a secondary industry, that has an economic system build around the creation of goods, to a tertiary industry. An industry in which the majority of employment is focused on providing services instead of goods. Services that are aimed to serve us humans in maintaining our current way of living such as financial support, education and healthcare (Investopedia, 2021). However, the focus on maintaining our current way of living is not always what is best for us humans.
The 40-hour workweek at first was a way to protect workers however it now resulted in an attendance quota and a task-oriented way of working. Earning money as key purpose in order to maintain our way of living. We measure the quality of our labour by time spend rather than impact made. As a student Transformative Social Innovation, I came accustomed to turning this around. To take impact as the leading value factor for your actions instead of a task-oriented way of working. With impact I mean having a positive effect on people and the planet. Nowadays, there is almost no organization that does not claim to have ‘sustainable’ business model or at least a focus on sustainability. The working hours are filled however not a lot of positive impact has been made. So, was it valuable? Well, it wasn’t in my view. I understand that I am generalizing the way of working at the moment. Nevertheless, the foundation of the way we spend our time is focused on capitalistic growth, earning money to be able preserve our way of living.
It is no secret anymore that our current economy went over the limits of our ecosystem. This development requires change on a systemic scale. However, in our service economy, we are still measuring the value of our labours by time spent. And now that the earth and our climate need our services. Focussing on 8 hours of capitalistic growth a day, with some sustainability on the side. Will not do the trick.
‘Impact is the fruit of our labour, let’s just hope we still have time.’
Shift in Focus
I noticed during my research for my graduation how quickly we can forget why we do what we do. How the essence of our work gets overshadowed by ‘day to day tasks’. Part of my goal for my graduation is getting to the core of identity of my client and by that defining and creating their brand. I used a common brand identity tool to get to the core of labour and I quickly became aware that, by simply discussing what is the reason for existence of the organization, motivation to generate impact increased.
How the client was reminded why they do what they do and how it is about so much more than day to day tasks such as replying to emails, having meetings and setting up new business relationships. It was eye opening to see how having a dialogue about honest intentions opened up the way of working. Slowly shifting focus from working time to impact time. It is something that reminded me of the power of small interventions and being aware of your own values. Besides the effect it had on the perspective on work, it also had a positive effect on people itself. There was more motivation to work on the purpose of the organization rather than working from task to task.
It gives me positive energy to notice how rewarding it is to seek for values, and in this search find motivation to do good. Reading an article this morning I again became aware of the goals we as the Netherlands have set. Namely being completely circular by 2050 (Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Waterstaat, 2020). A massive goal that will require a shift in how we approach and look at the way we work and live. The social structures of the society intrigue me and I notice that social change is a fun and dynamic process. I also notice the important role education plays in this change. If we are aiming for a complete systemic change. The way we work will also change and hence the way we prepare for our professional career. I see a solution in valuing work by impact instead of time. I believe an open and adaptive attitude are key in the transformative society. In my next blog, I will test my believes by having a discussion with Jasper Box. A fellow student Social Innovation and an expert on the power of transformative dialogues.