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IS THE CONCEPT OF BEING AN EMPLOYEE AN OLD-FASHIONED NOTION?

With debates and articles spilling forth on the future of work and hybrid working one wonders whether we should also be having a debate as to whether the traditional employer/employee relationship still exists or whether it is time to also have a deep dive into the benefits of this type of relationship. Put simply, is the concept of being an employee just an old-fashioned notion?


If indeed, the future of work is to have an environment where more and more people will be working from home, our thoughts will naturally turn to how to keep employees engaged and motivated when they are not in their usual working environment. Pre-pandemic, companies such as Google, Facebook and other big techies and FTSE100 companies would have stunning offices, coffee shops in the building, nap areas, basketball courts, amenities such as dry cleaning pick-ups, in-house day-care facilities, etc.. All designed, one imagines to keep employees happy at work, not distracted from other matters in life so that they could be 100% focussed on the job at hand.


Now that people will be working from home, the employment engagement gurus will have to come up with other hacks to keep people engaged. And somehow sending an Easter Egg, or Pancake day hamper to someone's home isn't going to cut it long term.


Interestingly though, @Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes a telling article in the Spring edition of WORK where he states that although there has been a huge focus in the past decade on employee engagement, this hasn't had the direct correlation with increased productivity. He further writes that actually organisations are not in the business of making people happy, and that nor should they focus on this. And perhaps if organisations stopped raising people's expectations about what they can get at work, we might see an increase in satisfaction and ultimately in performance as it is often those people who are not satisfied, or difficult or non-conformist who are the change agents and make things happen, precisely because they're unhappy with the status-quo.


@Sarah Jaffe - author of Work Won't Love You Back writes that when we boil it down, we work so that we can pay our bills and that the jobs we have is not because companies are benevolent, but because those jobs and the efforts we make mean that the bosses are benefitting from our work. She states that even the most fulfilling of jobs who have the nicest of bosses, exists so that people who own the company can make money - not to make the employee happy.


She outlines that the shift of the economy from an industrial to a service driven economy with the breakdown of unions and other institutions designed to reinforce worker solidarity has produced an environment of individualised workers who seek their own fulfilment and how they can move up the ladder with the commensurate monetary rewards.



This sounds all rather bleak, but not really. Perhaps we are in the ideal position to rethink our relationship. Perhaps what is needed is more Employee Ownership schemes where people feel less like an employee and more empowered to be involved and contributing to the growth of the business. Or could we consider that we don't have employees at all and rather just have contract for hire who are engaged to perform a specific function - be it for an indefinite period or for a time-bound project?

Whatever direction we take, I believe we are at the precipice of change and employers and employees alike should be seriously considering the future of work and their role in this relationship.

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