Danny Rehr
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Definition of Work Changes

Definition of Work Changes

Feb 24, 2023

Photo by kris on Unsplash.

Definitions evolve. It is not always because things change. It's how we think that changes - through development, new ideas, innovation and socio-cultural norms (troubling in some cases, whether they're fact-based or not).

With that, sorry flat-earthers, but Earth is round. Then again, flat-earther is incredulously a defined term ("a person who believes that the planet Earth is flat" [1]).

I drank milk as a kid. Milk was milk. But just the other day, "the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced draft recommendations for industry on the naming of plant-based foods that are marketed and sold as alternatives to milk." [2] Some of these plant-based alternative milks are delicious and nutritious.

Instant coffee used to be a simple, convenient way to create brewed coffee by adding hot water.

Since Blue Bottle Coffee released its Craft Instant Coffee last year, now instant coffee can mean instant espresso - a different brew method with a vastly different taste profile. (See my experience in the video above.)

Those examples are analogous to today's definition of work. It's more differentiated now than ever before. And that's because we think of work in very different ways.

What Is Work?

Merriam-Webster.com defines work, in part, as an

...activity that a person engages in regularly to earn a livelihood; one's place of employment. [3]

The key words there are engages, earn, livelihood, and employment.

Engagement correlates directly with taking part in something. Earning denotes effort in exchange for something. Livelihood is exactly as it comes across - translating to living. Employment connotes someone else's choice to have you engage their organization in exchange for earning and living.

Some Questions, Still

What makes for honest work? How does work fit into our other occupation as human beings? Are the words work, profession, and the like synonyms, or have they delineated into isolated terms? Specifically, what is a dedicated professional versus one who simply works?

These questions have been playing in my head over the past week or so like an orchestra. I've been trying to pick apart the different, ideated notes and instrumental thinking from which they originate.

Talking About Work

What spawned my rethinking of work was a conversation. A fellow employee told me, paraphrased, "We have to work, so why not work on our own terms?" When I asked what that meant to him, he replied, again paraphrased:

I want to leave work whenever I want, take a day off whenever I want, and, as I had done for the past year, take a leave of absence with a job to return to when I feel like returning.

Without passing judgment, it seems he wants control in place of the control employers have traditionally held - and in many cases leveraged against us employees.

Employee vs. Employer?

Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash.

Taking control makes sense for the employee, but what about its implications for the employer?

Research indicates that an organization that offers its employees a purpose equates to a quantifiably more successful business, e.g. revenues, morale, etc. (Quinn and Thakor, p. 80) [4] That purpose has everything to do with why the organization exists. We, as employees, relate and thereby engage the employment in such a way that makes earning and livelihood more closely tied. This is one of the fundamental alignment lessons in the study of business strategy and organizational behavior.

The above-referenced coworker has inverted the notion of business fundamentalism.

It's creative to say the least that from a business with an impassioned property of purpose could come this idea of relegating its existence as secondary; furthermore, the organization would then precipitate the construct of an employee-first focus followed by whatever the it is that the business intends to do (i.e. purpose).

Is the elemental design of the employer neither its purpose, mission, vision, nor values, but instead the wants of its employees?

Again, how does this make sense for the employer?

Is there a safe compromise? According to Fisher and Ury's book on negotiating, Getting To Yes, “The method of principled negotiation developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project is to decide issues on their merits rather than through a haggling process focused on what each side says it will and won’t do.” [5] Are we in dangerous territory when the employee takes on more control over the fundamental existence of the business practices than the business itself? What then defines work?

My Thoughts: Modeling Work

I'm not taking sides here; although, I don't agree hereto with my coworker. So far, his is a completely different perspective than my own. So how could I not be intrigued?! I can't wait to learn more from him. Maybe I could do with a new definition. That, for a strategist, is really exciting!

Models allow us to comprehend what's around us.  A word for this is worldview.  Its parameters are the virtual boundaries of experience, knowledge and, with them, expectation that eventually form some understanding of our own.

My values happen to be integrity, humility, people, conscientiousness, and quality. (Learn more about my professional make-up on the landing page of https://danrehr.com or by clicking the graphic below.)

Judgment aside, my model doesn't make sense of how a company can succeed by giving its people heightened status to decide when the purpose does and doesn't work for them to, then, the extent of deciding when to participate, or engage, as Merriam-Webster states.  What is the definition of work at that point? How do we determine the extent to which we are professionals versus hobbyists? Will business be about competing or simply existing for drive-through participants? How will markets adjust to businesses with intemperate workforce strategies?

'Know what?  I'm fascinated to learn more.  Open-mindedness to definitional change is the essence of the act of defining. I'm after clarity here.

Does the prospect of work have a new norm? The advantages to the employee are clear. What about the disadvantages? For example, how will employees like this coworker find their next opportunities, sustain their careers and dare to keep working when it is, seemingly at best, a secondary priority, and at worst, an afterthought?

If the working world moves more toward this model of employee freedom, then how will anyone succeed?  What will success be defined as - something new, something less, something somehow more?

Is this not a capitalism versus socialism type of quandary? What then, I asked earlier, is a dedicated professional versus one who simply works?

I hope to speak with that coworker more to learn his definition of work. What is yours?

[1] Definition of FLAT-EARTHER. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flat-earther. Accessed 24 Feb. 2023.

[2] Commissioner, Office of the. “FDA Provides Draft Labeling Recommendations for Plant-Based Milk Alternatives to Inform Consumers.” FDA, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 22 Feb. 2023, https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-provides-draft-labeling-recommendations-plant-based-milk-alternatives-inform-consumers. Accessed 24 Feb. 2023.

[3] Definition of WORK. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/work. Accessed 24 Feb. 2023.

[4] Quinn, Robert E., and Anjan V. Thakor. “Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization.” Harvard Business Review, vol. 96, no. 4, 1 July 2018, p. 80. hbr.org, https://hbr.org/2018/07/creating-a-purpose-driven-organization.

[5] Fisher, Roger, and William Ury. Getting to Yes. Edited by Bruce Patton, Penguin Publishing Group, 2011.

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