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. 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 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 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?

A simple way to find out if this includes you, is to take the lottery test. If you won £millions on the national lottery, would you carry on doing the work that you are doing now? If you said yes, the chances are that there is something about the work that gives you a valued sense of meaning and purpose. For lots of people, this might be the social aspects; hanging out in the company of people that you like. Or, it might be that the work itself gives you a sense of satisfaction in making a positive difference to the world and other people.

However, its not unreasonable to assume that most people would readily embrace the opportunity to tell their boss where to stick the job. The tragic fact is that in many developed countries, up to 45% of employee absenteeism is because of mental health issues, with financial and job insecurity the leading cause of this; a figure that has increased by 20% in the last decade alone and contributes to 800,000 suicides a year; one every 40 seconds (source). The World Health Organisation estimates the cost of this to the global economy at $1trillion per year, affecting 264 million people worldwide (source).

Something is clearly going very wrong here. The response of the political and economic establishment is to tell us that we must work harder, for longer and with ever increasing levels of personal indebtedness and insecurity, despite the way that the values and practices of that same establishment are precipitating a climate change and ecosystem catastrophe. The one thing, work, that consumes most of our time is the very thing that is making all of our time meaningless. Quite literally, work is sending us mad.

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 and the needs of the living planet of which we are an integral part; the part that is having the greatest influence on the destiny of all life forms. From an early description of money as a network of barter and exchange, the industrial revolution saw the establishment of the banking system and the beginning of the development of 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.

When people are asked what they actually want to do for work, there are only two possible answers. The first answer concerns looking at the overall job scene and identifying where one might best fit in, what on balance offers the best outcomes with the least hassle and what one is qualified for. The second possible answer is about identifying ones vocation; that unique thing that is a composite of what we most love doing and what most gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. The problem is that it´s often very difficult to make this type of work pay enough to live.

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, plus the changes that coronavirus has precipitated, create a unique opportunity to consciously re-design the way finance and economics work, in order to sustain a collective lifestyle that places human and natural well-being, our social evolutionary purpose, at the centre of the system, it´s primary objective, rather than the periphery; an unwelcome by-product. One key that can make this happen is the adoption of a universal basic income. Long being suggested as a viable response to the employment changes that artificial intelligence will inevitably bring, and made possible by the new economic thinking of modern monetary theory, each has the potential to utterly transform our concept of what "work" might mean.

What if... rather than being trained to be obedient slaves to the well-being of our financial masters, we were instead guided towards finding and expressing our unique personal gifts, those things that would make us truly happy and that would serve the evolutionary well-being of ourselves, each other and the natural world, would things really be so bad? In fact, would you or anyone you know actually object to this?

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.