A new ethic of work?

Good question man, and good insights.

I know a few people that love their jobs, but not many. A lot of people I know tolerate their jobs, some truly hate them. I have personally experienced all three. We have seen numerous articles about how incredibly low employee engagement, satisfaction and loyalty are right now. The economy is still in a funk, politics, healthcare and education seem to be incredibly dysfunctional, and it seems to me that most businesses are not even seriously trying to adapt to the profound changes taking place.

I do not think that the sky is falling or that the end is near, but I do think we have a pretty serious mess on our hands. There are plenty of smarty pants types and smarty pants wannabes talking about the macro issues, but one of the things at the very heart of our current situation is the relationship between the employee and their work / employer. Sitting right next to that relationship is HR, and while I see a lot of evidence suggesting that HR is bringing its game up, I do not see much evidence that HR is changing its game.

We got here because tolerating a little bit more bullshit is a lot easier and safer than Taking A Stand. Individual risk for collective benefit is a beast. While I think you and I have some obligation to push on both sides, I agree with you that “the people have the power when it comes to fixing work and I don’t believe that organizations will respond until we create a circumstance where they have no choice.

So there is probably some opportunity in efforts to remind people of their personal power, to help them develop skills toward using that power, but I wonder if something bigger and bolder is not needed.

Maybe we need a 21st century ethic of work.

Isn’t a big part of the problem the underlying truth that while we say we want and love change agents, we generally end up firing them? We say that we want people that are authentic and unique, but we generally do not hire them? We talk a great game about honesty and integrity and values, yet whistleblowers generally pay dearly for their actions?

I think that we need a new archetype.

What does a good employee do today? What does it mean to be a good employee, to be part of the solution, to be of value? Less and less of what we do today is based on what is actually of real value to the organization…instead it is based on preference, ideology and status quo. People that never rock the boat, that never challenge their peers or their boss or themselves, that never take risks…should be seen as lazy and self-serving. Because they are. But these are often the folks that outlast the rest of us and end up in the big chair. Can we change that? Can we change how we talk about and view staying in crummy jobs? Can we change how we talk about and feel toward people that do take risks…that tell the whole truth…that make mistakes?

The management wing of the business world is not going to save business, they are too well compensated to take any real risk. This is not something that is going to be worked out in B school. If a movement is going to take shape at the bottom of the pyramid, which I heard you talk about yesterday, I think it has to aspire toward new ideals of “employee” and “work,” built around what creates real value.

So, what words, values, images would these new ideals be built of?




  1. The business world has done a great job at understanding what actions lead to results. What I believe we have failed to pay attention to is what thoughts and emotions lead to the actions being most productive for the results. Our culture is insecure and needy and if employers aren’t addressing this issue people will continue to be disengaged and unfilled at work. I don’t believe the root of the issue is at the work place, but all the other BS people are trying to organize and balance in their own lives. If you believe the stats and the news, we as a culture are unhealthy (physically and emotionally), we’re financially stressed, relationship aren’t stable, and people to your article’s point, people are disengaged in their work.

    Referencing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if our needs for safety and security aren’t satisfied we aren’t going to naturally strive to build healthy relationships, have the self esteem to maximize our potential, or discover our purpose. Simply we will never be confident. The business world thinks money and benefits are the key components to people security and though they are important people have much greater needs. The problem is, the average person can’t articulate what their needs are. In the coaching and personal development world the best way to give people a sense of security and control is to help them understand their true values, beliefs, and expectations of the world around them. That is where they will be able to identify where the true gaps are in their expectations vs their reality. Help them create the plan to close the gaps. Their stress will go down, their control will go up, and they will become more confident.

    I know it’s hard to predict an ROI from this, but if organizations would pay attention to the basic needs of human beings that help them gain security and gain self-confidence a lot of the other issues would take care of themselves. A secure and confident person will take pride in their world and strive to do greater things. Sure, you’ll have cases where people realize what they are doing isn’t what they are meant to be doing, but I’d rather have people with productive thoughts and emotions on my team than trying to manage what we are faced to manage today.

  2. While the goal of improving employee-employer relationships has some merit, there is only room for a limited number of ‘uniquely valuable’ people in a company. All the Myers-Brigging in the world won’t change that. If you have the resources and courage, you should try to break free of the yoke, but bear in mind that you will likely fail, notwithstanding a few inspiring anecdotes.That’s the reality for most new businesses and other ‘ find my true place’ pursuits. That’s why most people still work in regular jobs.

    A new ethic must take into account the reality of today’s workplace. People must accept that to prosper, they must adopt a ‘win at all cost’ mentality. That’s what most successful companies and people do (think Apple and Steve Jobs). You are at work to win, i.e, get paid as much as you can, as happily as you can, for as long as you can. People need to incorporate ‘any way you can’ into that equation. In sports, deception, intimidation, and rule-stretching are the mark of a winner.

    People have been domesticated into thinking the game doesn’t apply to them. Being domesticated is fine until you’re released into the wild. Companies now check your blood, urine, work history, and credit. They monitor your building entry/exit, and internet usage. Corporations understand the new rules. Play by the old ones at your peril.

    A few ‘hypothetical’ examples to get you started:
    -Invest a few hundred dollars into having someone delve into your supervisors background and activities.
    -Let the air out your bosses tire and ‘happen along’ to help him change it.
    – Arrange to ‘Run into’ the CEO at his or her church or club.
    -‘Accidentally drop’ a digital recorder the next time you’re in your bosses office.

    Ridiculous, you say? Be honest enough to admit that if someone told you ten years ago that the work world would be in it’s current state, you’d have thought that person was crazy.

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