The Future of Work

"Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.". Aristotle

Consider the image of the bees at work in the hive; making honey for us to enjoy. The bees have no sense of waking in the morning with a heavy heart at the prospect of the day ahead. No-one is telling them that they HAVE to go to work or SHOULD or OUGHT to. They are not doing it for the money. They are not competing with other bees for more power, status or the largesse of the queen bee. They do not feel fed up and take it out on each other, or agonize over whether a cold does actually constitute "flu" and hence paid sick leave. They are merely doing what comes naturally to them. In human terms, our "natural action" is to do those things that we love doing. And yet, how many people equate work as the very thing that interferes with doing the things that they love? What on earth has gone wrong?

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2020 clinical depression will be the second largest cause of the global health burden, currently standing at 450 million prescribed cases worldwide (source). Of UK adults who have worked, about 2.2 million people suffer from some form of ill health believed to be caused or aggravated by work. One study found that three in ten employees will have a mental health problem in any one year, mainly depression and anxiety. Over the past 20 years, the prevalence of mental illness has increased by 50 per cent (source). The annual cost to the UK economy of this time off work is £77.5 billion (source); 62% of the cost of running the NHS (source). This is costing every one of us on average £1700 annually in tax. The implications of this are profound. The income tax of much of your hard-earned monthly earnings is paying for the cost of the harmful effects of going to work! Not changing it, just dealing with it. If you don´t particularly enjoy work or paying tax, does that make you feel better? And its not just adults affected. Children and teenagers are experiencing an "intolerable" mental health crisis, with nearly a quarter of girls now self-harming (source).

Of course it could be argued that all this is maintaining the health of the economy, especially the international pharmaceutical industry in both its legal and illegal aspects, providing work for other people and affluence for us all. In fact the range of work open to us all will be determined largely by the needs of the economy, rather than our innate needs as human beings. From an early description of a network of barter and exchange, the industrial revolution saw the establishment of the banking system and the beginning of the development of modern economic theory. From historical origins as a description of human activity, the "servant" of what we do (the bees making honey), the economy has now become our master. It teaches us our role within life, it tells us what to believe in order to be happy, it persuades us to buy stuff we don´t really need, it lends us the money (at interest) to buy all this, it provides us with increasingly stressful and insecure work to maintain it all, it charges us to soothe our fears at losing it and finally offers a sub-standard service when we can´t cope with it any more! Its trashing both us and the living planet of which we are an integral part.

The modern economy HAS alleviated huge amounts of suffering and poverty and enables countless individuals to lead a rich and rewarding lifestyle. Vast numbers work within the mainstream, maintaining high standards of integrity and enjoyment, providing a multitude of real benefits for all. The challenge for the individual arises when the need for money clashes with the circumstances, conditions and values associated with the workplace. At the moment, we all need money to live. However, when the need for money comes into conflict with our spiritual needs as human beings, then there is a major problem which won´t go away. Similarly, on a global scale, the conflicts between the pursuit of financial profit and the well-being of people & the environment are deepening and becoming life-threatening.

How does all this affect the bees? They will just simply carry on making honey, immune to our concerns. Similarly, an increasing body of expertise, backed up by the personal stories of successful and wealthy individuals, shows that a commitment to doing those things that we love rather than what we think we ought to do, conforming directly to our personal value system and refusing to compromise on our standards, precisely indicate a path to the financial abundance that we seek through work. Do you pass the "lottery test"? If you won £millions tomorrow, would you carry on in your present work? If not, then you´re not following your vocation; that unique thing that is your true gift to the world and that will give you a deep sense of well-being. To find this is to find one´s unique fulfilment as a human being.

Do you truly love your work? Do you think that such a thing is in fact possible? Or do you take the view that work is just something that has to be done as painlessly as possible, counting off the days remaining towards retirement, and that "real life" is something that takes place outside of work? For too long, and for too many people, the circumstances of work have been primarily a systemically driven need to survive and manage the inbuilt indebtedness that the financial system has imposed on us. A small number of people benefit financially from this system, many, if not most worldwide, don´t. The necessity of response to the climate and environmental crisis creates a unique opportunity to consciously re-design the way finance and economics work, in order to sustain a collective lifestyle which places human and natural well-being at the centre of the system, it´s primary objective, rather than the periphery; an unwelcome by-product. We have the intelligence, the ingenuity and the need to do this. Do we have the will?

Change Agents

Charles Eisenstein

Sacred Economics. In this inspiring and mind-expanding short film (12.08), Charles articulates both the challenge and the hope of economic transformation.

Schumacher College

In 1974, radical economist E.F Schumacher published Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. Short film (12.38) about vocation.