Work sucks. Say this to most people and you very likely will have found common ground.
But work shouldn’t suck. The place where we spend most of our time shouldn’t be somewhere that we don’t want to be, because we end up resenting the work we do, the people we work with, and the companies that we work for.
After our conversation with Andy Golding and Brad Shorkend in Episode #15 of One More Question, we decided to take a deeper look at why work sucks, and what we can do to change it.
Why work sucks
What we understand as ‘work’ today is still based on old ways of thinking (and working). From building the pyramids, to the Industrial Revolution, large tasks were completed by assembling big groups of people in one location under the watchful eye of a group of leaders and pushing them towards defined outputs.
Sure, organisational complexities and industries have expanded since then, and organisations are still, in essence, large groups of people working towards a common goal, but do they still need to be?
Rapid advancements in technology have enabled businesses to change and grow at speed but HR is one department that, besides changing titles, hasn’t changed significantly over the past two decades.
Though technology makes it easier to create and manage distributed workforces on flexible schedules. Employees are still seen as cogs in a machine rather than individual actors with the potential to create brilliant outputs, and the requirement of fighting rush-hour traffic to get to the office on time and be for most of your day can stifle opportunities for brilliant and efficient work — especially where employees can work remotely.
So, what’s changed?
We shouldn’t be working this way. We should be reframing the way in which we work — finding organisations that we want to work for, not organisations that we have to work for. This is becoming less of a dream and more of a reality — more people are finding companies and projects on which they want to spend their time — and there are a few reasons that this has become possible.
Advancements in technology have made it possible for people to work from anywhere in the world and to manage their own time. This has opened up opportunities to take on clients regardless of geographic location and for people to work whenever and however they want, as long as they meet set milestones and deadlines.
The ability to connect from anywhere and work according to their own schedule has changed the way in which people view work in relation to their quality of life — not beholden to an office schedule or daily commute, and for the brave among us, a set salary.
Employees are expecting more
In line with changes that we’re seeing over wider areas of society, employees are expecting more from organisations. Where consumers are looking for brands that align with their values and are able to show the impact, employees are prioritising meaningful work and flexibility over pay. What this means for HR and organisations is that defining your culture and being able to show it and prove it becomes extremely important — especially when aligning values and behaviours — internally and externally.
The importance of people
As repetitive processes become automated and we start to see people as actors with the potential to create change, rather than just cogs in a system, we start to realise their potential to come up with solutions to challenges that the organisation faces.
As more organisations cotton on to the importance of finding and retaining top talent, that top talent becomes harder to find, attract, and retain. Clarity of purpose, building a strong culture, and being able to share them becomes an important driver for finding and keeping the best talent.
How do we make it better?
To get the most out of employees, we need to design environments that grant people agency in their roles and the challenges they take on. This needs to align with your organisation and help it achieve its goals, but how do you give people enough space to perform while also maintaining their path and outputs?
Define your culture
Whether it’s something you feel you’ve never had, or it’s something that’s there but has never been understood, you need to create, find or define your culture. Part of this is defining or clarifying your purpose and values. These speak to everything that your organisation stands for, and the difference it makes in the world.
By defining your purpose, you make a statement about what you hope to achieve and the impact you make. Defining your values helps you outline the beliefs and behaviours required to deliver on your stated purpose — this allows your employees to align with your organisation and find greater meaning in their work. It can also provide agency for them to act in the best interest of the organisation according to their role, without needing to check in with their senior manager for every decision that they make.
Nobody wants to work in an environment characterised by low levels of trust – it limits communication and snuffs out any chance of making a difference.
The first step in building trust is clear communication. We sometimes assume that our colleagues and employees in the organisation have a clear understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, but this isn’t always the case. Because roles are specific, we often have access to different sets of information, and we translate information differently, the conclusions that we come to are not always the same. We need to be sure that there is a clear understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it — across the organisation and in our individual roles.
Aligning internal and external messaging is also important — this helps prospective employees understand what to expect when entering your organisation and outlines how current employees should go about achieving organisational goals according to the values of the organisation.
Empowering employees builds trust and can increase the likelihood of new, innovative solutions to challenges that the organisation faces on a daily basis. Giving employees the power to speak up and make decisions in relation to their role, gives them agency to affect change and can provide deeper meaning in their role.
Providing employees with the opportunity to make their own decisions means that you also need to allow space for mistakes, but if you can embrace this, it opens up the opportunity to rapidly iterate and develop solutions.
Leave room to manoeuvre
Leave space to make (and be open to) change in your organisation and internal roles. Being open to change provides space to take a step back and take a wider view of your industry. This can be vital in keeping unnecessary pressure off employees and allowing the organisation to explore new or different opportunities when markets become flooded with competitors.
By leaving space for your employees to take on new challenges, redefine their roles, and make mistakes, you allow space for them to be brilliant, work flexibly and, in turn, refine internal processes to the benefit of the organisation.
Work shouldn’t suck, and HR — with their knowledge of people — should be the department driving work that doesn’t suck. If we refuse to get caught up in reams of admin, we can take a broader view of the role of HR, making them drivers and owners of organisational culture. By using purpose and values as a guide, there’s a chance that HR could make our work suck a little less, and organisations driven by rigid admin intensive processes could become a thing of the past.