New Work can lead to self-exploitation – economy

work differently

The SZ series “Working differently” explains what you need to know about the future of work and shows which companies are successful with their ideas – or not. All episodes can be found on this overview page.

The term sounds a bit outdated, like an old Walkman from the early 90s that you found in some crate: work-life balance. Nowadays the idea behind it is pretty outdated: the balance between work and life and thus also the demarcation between the working person between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and the leisure person before and after, on weekends and during the holidays.

The fashionable term of the 1920s is: new work. And it often brings with it the exact opposite of the old idea of ​​balance: in the new world of work, the boundaries between work and free time are blurring, everything is one and balance is therefore not necessary. And man is always the same man, no matter what he is doing.

At first that sounds good. Personnel managers, start-up founders and company bosses who rave about their New Work methods love nouns that hardly anyone objects to: self-determination, democratization, flexibility. To this end, they are currently experimenting a lot, for example with free choice of workplace and location, with unlimited vacation days or with teams that choose their bosses, salaries or colleagues. As long as employees are doing their jobs, they should have as much freedom as possible.

work has to change. work will change

Experimentation in the world of work is good, because work has to change. Not only, but especially the pandemic years have shown that work as it is now simply makes too many people unhappy. And work will change. Industrialization at the turn of the last century brought about the spatial and temporal separation between work and life on a large scale. Instead of working on the farm or in the bakery, people went to the factory at fixed times. Today, digitization is bringing work back to the home, with the home office and the opportunity to quickly answer the boss before going to bed. The work always changes with new tools.

However, if you want to ensure that work is not only different, but also better, you have to think through the consequences of all the well-sounding New Work models very carefully. The certainly predominantly well-meaning managers are easily fooled by the feeling that they are doing something good for their employees and keeping them that way or finding new ones more easily – the opposite often happens. It is therefore important, for example, to research the downsides of working from home and to warn against them, such as loneliness or the danger of simply turning previous commuting times into working hours and thus working a lot more.

How companies organize work says a lot about how they see people

All the ideas of reorganizing work must not be used to hide the fact that employees work too much for too little money. Because the most important thing about work is and remains that people can finance a good life with their salaries. And that they also do something other than work. New Work can easily become a cover for self-exploitation. In the new world of work, it is no longer the manager who forces you to turn the thousand screws within 30 minutes – it is the worker herself who decides to do so of her own free will, because her colleagues, managers and the company doesn’t want to let down and she has assigned herself to her shift. At the end of the day she is just as tired – maybe even more tired because personal responsibility is also a burden and there is no one to blame anymore. And those who can hardly cope with their work anyway tend to take fewer than more vacation days, even if the number is not capped.

How companies organize work says a lot about how they see people. Anyone who assumes that people are basically good can trust them. And gaining trust feels good. But that is precisely where the challenge lies: The best employees, those who are really passionate about their work, are also the first to burn out. The foremost task of managers must therefore be to slow them down and protect them from themselves. So that the new work is not only new, but also better.

The next episode from the series “Work differently” read on May 3rd: What lifetime work time accounts bring.

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