• Dr. Stefanie Puckett

Is "New Work" good and "Old Work" evil?

I am of the opinion that discussions around New Work are somewhat one-sided. For a better balance, here is my contribution.


Indeed, there are few critical contributions regarding the individuum in the desired “new work” context.


Team and networking are important, WOL, team events, interest groups. Identification with the "purpose" of the company, work becomes life. Self-organize by dealing with others on the team, everyone becomes a leader, and nobody is led. There is a hype.


However, not everyone is enthusiastic about it. People have different priorities (even the same person has different priorities depending on their life situation), values and preferences. Extraversion, dominance, agreeableness, independence and openness for experience are normally distributed personality traits - so there are people along the entire spectrum.


Do we all need to become team players?

Well, it must be said that increasing complexity, customer centricity and the focus on value chains, as well as digitization simply requires more interdisciplinary cooperation. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I have to sit in a war room with others all day long. Even in the field of software development freelancers are used who deliver only remote work. Still, the increasing team orientation may be compensated by possibilities for home office or mobile work.

The subject of teams carries yet another risk. One area of tension in self-controlled teams is the consensus tendency that develops, which can quickly iron out individual ideas and lateral thinkers. In my opinion it should be promoted much more strongly that decisions can be made by individuals who seek advice when needed (an example here is again The Morning Star Company or Netflix). It is necessary to delegate decisions to the "lowest" possible level, to the front, to those employees/teams who directly experience the necessity of the decision (inquiries from customers/risks or opportunities in the market, ...). Consequently, it is not always a team but the individual employee who should decide.


On the subject of leadership or no leadership

There is little critical contributions to the request to reduce or eliminate leadership positions. An example are the articles that can be found on Zappos and the holacracy that was introduced there (American online shoe retailer, meanwhile taken over by Amazon). Much of it I have included in my book (https://amzn.to/2Wlgusv), especially the illusion that leaderless groups lead to more self-determination. Where I previously negotiated one-to-one with my boss, I now negotiate with a whole group of colleagues. This is one example.

There are some critical contributions from individual smaller start-ups in Germany that are now “transforming back” to more conservative structures, as well as reports from Silicon Valley that show a trend towards reintroducing management levels. That's the subject of leadership.


Flexibility....

Then there is the topic of the increasing flexibility that is offered and requested in our work life. It means new opportunities. But flexibility does not come without a price to pay. Developmental Psychology teaches us how our identity develops, and the role flexibility can play in hindering mature identity development. I wrote in the Bertelsmann Booksprint about the boundaries between private and professional life and the challenges that flexibility poses for our identity formation: https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/index.php?id=12036. Enough critical remarks for now.


I think New Work makes things better.

Or at least more contemporary. It is nice to see that decades-old demands by industrial psychologists are finally being taken up popularly, for example: More self-determination, holistic (end-to-end) work. And very fundamentally: giving people and teams the freedom to do their job as they see fit, is a very big step in the right direction. Buurtzorg (Dutch care company) is a fantastic example of how New Work can improve work enormously - even in the tense field of care.


What do I want to achieve with my post?

  1. Stimulate the discussion, not everything that glitters is gold.

  2. Point out that the one-size-fits-all approach will not work for New Work either.

  3. Keeping a sense of proportion – or as we say in Germany: "Leaving the church in the village." A reminder that we get paid for work. If it's fun and we can realize our potential and find fulfillment, that's great, without question. And desirable!

..... But a little pinching here and swallowing there are unfortunately sometimes just part of it – compensated for with the monthly salary. ;)





This article was published in German as: Puckett, S. (2019). New Work = Good, Old Work = Evil? Kopföffnende Gedanken zum Wirtschaften von morgen. Herausgeber: Stephan Grabmeier. BertelsmannStiftung.

Free download of the full document (German): https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/de/publikationen/publikation/did/kopfoeffner-fuer-besseres-wirtschaften/

#NewWork #NeueArbeitswelt #NewLeadership #Agil #AgileTransformation #Digitalisierung #DigitaleTransformation #Kopföffner

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