Saturday, September 19, 2020

Executive Education

The Evolution of Working Life: Embracing a Paradigm Shift

There is a growing awareness in Western medicine that modern health care is really disease care. Instead of focusing on the entire wellbeing of their patients, doctors in the twentieth century and today have specialized not only on certain areas of the body, but the problems that arise in those areas. Inevitably, there may be a need for specialization when things clearly go wrong, but there is a rising acknowledgment that health care has to be just that – a holistic approach to the human experience, encompassing mind, body and spiritual health. In practicing preventative care – a holistic approach – the modern health care system is undergoing a paradigm shift.

Soon, I believe, organizations – or more accurately working life – will undergo a similar transformation. It’s already happening in certain areas – B-corporations, results oriented work places, work-life balance, and even mindfulness are slowing creeping into the workplace lexicon. People are beginning to question what working life should look like.

In many work environments a desire for a more holistic, human-centered approach can be shrugged off with disdain. “That’s why they call it work” and other clichés get bandied about with a shrug – that’s just the way it is. There’s even an attitude that that’s the way it’s always been. Get used to it. Get real. Get to work.

Has it always been this way? No doubt there have been unhealthy working environments predating the Pharaohs’ embrace of slavery in Egypt. But in the pre-industrial revolution days it was also a lot more common for people to be the masters of their own working life. There were artisans – blacksmiths, carpenters, and tradespeople. There were farmers and those who worked the land. The modern concept of work as we know it today is relatively new. So why do we act like the concept of the workplace is done evolving? Why is it a done deal?

People spend roughly a third of their lives working. Some more, some less. Why should we accept the rigid construct that’s in place now that tells us our professional lives have to be kept separate from our personal lives? Why must our spiritual experience be kept separate? Why must our working lives be kept hermetically sealed and protected from such human taint?

I believe the more rounded and integrated our working lives are with our personal lives the healthier our organizations and our people and our society will be. Life was not meant to be neatly compartmentalized between working life and family life, between careers and personal time. It’s an artificial construct.

It’s yet to be seen what the future of work will look like, but if you pay close attention you can see the wheels of evolution at work. Like in the field of medicine, a holistic, person-centered approach is on the horizon. It’s up to each of us to decide whether we want to be a part of it or get back to work maintaining the status quo.

By Erin Mahoney.

Erin Mahoney
Erin Mahoney is the Director of Training and Organization Development at Cascade Employers Association in Oregon, where she consults on cutting-edge leadership and employment trends.