Do we have to work? Book review

Book review on The Big Idea edition about how we came to work and how it might be in the future

Jan 01, 2022 · 454 words

Do we have to work? book photo

Why this book

In my research for my teaching module “tech watch”, I was looking for a comprehensive and bird eye view of the meaning of work. From its ancient origins (think of the end of the gather-hunter period), inside the different political system, with the information age, to the current existential climate crisis and how we envision the futur. This book offer a summary of the current state of work and how we get there.

Main learnings

Knowledge I would like to keep from the book as a reminder to myself.

Origins and evolutions

From the concepts of meaning of work for humans, relation with materialism and the pyramid of capitalism system we built a world around the work, a separation of tasks and responsibilities that made the actual specialisation possible. When the post-industrial society search for autonomy, competence and relatedness she also seeks for balanced work/leisure time. Systems around work like management organisation, decision making, etc evolved through time. Always seeking for the long term performances and wellbeing.

Lead to motivation and engagement

In order to find enhanced performance and wellbeing

This helps to explain why performance -related pay often fails; instead of adding motivation it replaces an intrisic desire to do a good job with the extrinsic motivation of material reward, something that can lead employees to game the system or feel resentful if they do not get a bonus.

Industrial democracy and purpose

When employees have a stake in management, policy making and ownership of the company. It leads to a better relatedness and more meaning. A strong focus on purpose will help the relatedness and share common values. This target is also a way to choose year objectives, way of working, types of clients etc. Labels such as B-Corp could help frame the common values and share it outside the company to attract anyone sharing the same goals.

Sense of flow

The concept of flow introcuded by a certain Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a state of wellbeing resutling from complete immersion in an activity. It tends to involve autonomy, clarity of purpose and clear feedback. This state is coming from the right balance of achievement and challenge.

Do we have to work anyway ?

The book end with this statement. Yes we need to work. The question is : “Does it need to feel like work?”. There is of course the question of equity with the whole world and how can I sustain a level of life on low paid workers far away from here.

Find the book on the Thames & Hudson editor website